25 Nov 2014
Private schools exist in order to maintain the class divide: if you want to give your child an advantage, send him or her to a private school. So say many studies, such as the Sutton Trust - private school pupils are 22 times more likely to attend a Russell Group university, for example - and this is obvious when you talk to parents about their reasons for using them. We all want the best for our children, so it seems a natural instinct. If you see the facilities that many private schools have, why would you not want to send your child there.
The £30,000 a year fees charged by some are an obvious barrier to most families, but private schools also have some other benefits which many users of, and teachers in, the state sector find difficult to swallow:
Tax relief as a charity - as Tristram Hunt points out today, private schools benefit hugely from this tax break, but appear to do very little general good in return. However, the government challenged this status previously and in 2011 lost the fight to restrict private school charity status.
Business rate relief - Hunt is suggesting that private schools should lose this if they don’t help local schools by lending them specialist staff. However, at a mere £135 million a year if they all lost it, it doesn’t give much to the chancellor in return. And he really needs to ask state schools if they actually want this - it seems very unlikely that they will.
Private school teachers have a state pension. A fact overlooked by many commentators, but very significant in maintaining the elite status of private schools and a very significant drain on the taxpayer. Unfortunately, there is little that any government could do about this directly - it would be very difficult to take it away from teachers. However, the liability for it could, perhaps be passed on to their employers, in the same way that academies have had to take on the very considerable burden of LA pensions of non-teaching staff.
I’m not sure what the proportion of overseas students is nowadays, but surely, at least for non-EU residents, these pupils should not receive state funding for their education in the ways described above. The head at King’s College in Wimbledon last week said that private schools were becoming populated by the children of oligarchs - should we fund them?
However, any attempt to hit private schools in their pockets will only put prices up, making them even more elitist, some say. If not, and the schools collapse, we face an even bigger school places crisis in future.
So, some lateral thinking by governments, or altruistic thinking by private schools, or (ha ha) some better funding of state schools so that they can compete more fairly are what’s needed. But many of us have been saying all this for years and do not hold our breath..
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