Britain’s Private School Problem.

Want to be a lawyer or in politics? Do you aspire to be an actor? Fancy yourself as a doctor, a leading news journalist or a senior military officer, or a senior civil servant?

These are just some of the professions and roles dominated by those who were educated at private school.

If you are one of the two fifths of workers earning £18,500, you may be interested to know you are supporting their education through tax breaks.

Perhaps, a ‘private school’ should be just that. Privately Funded without any tax payer subsidy/rebate/charity status? Or abolished altogether? Or made redundant by the funding of an equally well resourced State System?

According to

Fees vary widely from school to school. The 2016 Independent Schools Council (ISC) Annual Census revealed that the average boarding fees per term for pupils at ISC-member senior boarding schools was £10,217, with day fees at £6,104. ISC-member prep boarding school fees are a little less, at an average of £7,572 per term for boarders and £4,590 per term for day pupils. The average boarding fee across the prep, senior and sixth-form age groups at ISC-member schools was £10,317.”

Per term. Per child.

The 2010 Marmot Review ‘Fair Society, Healthy lives’  set out 6 policy objectives to address health inequalities, one of which is ‘give every child the best start in life’. Clearly an ambition so far from being realised in education as to render it the equivalent of nuclear fusion in physics or curing cancer in medicine.

Despite the gross social and educational inequalities experienced by millions of children, you, the Cornwall Council Tax payer, supports the education of this privileged sector. If you are not in Cornwall, ask what your local authority provides for the ‘independent sector’.

The State currently provides tax breaks in return for them ‘supporting’ state schools. In 2018, they saved £522 million in tax breaks  due to their charitable status. So that’s fair then?

The disparity in provision between state and independent sectors are so huge that the support they give is meaningless. Of course any state school pupil might benefit, and that cannot be denied, but is this the best way of doing this? The more important issue is the effect that the private school system has on the outcomes experienced by all pupils and thus on society.

Private schools are institutions that children who are already privileged attend and have those privileges further entrenched, almost certainly for life, through a high-quality, richly-resourced education. ‘The Engines of Privilege‘ (Kynaston and Green 2019) contends that in a society that mouths the virtues of equality of opportunity, of fairness and of social cohesion, the continuation of this educational apartheid amounts to an act of national self-harm that does all of us serious damage.”

Robert Verkaik (in “Posh Boys’ 2018) :

Imagine a world where leaders are able to pass power directly to their children. These children are plucked from their nurseries and sent to beautiful compounds far away from all the other children. They are provided with all the teachers they need, the best facilities, doctors and food. Every day they are told this is because they are the brightest and most important children in the world.Years later they are presented with the best jobs, the grandest houses and most of the money. Through their networks of friends and family they control the government, the army, the police and the country’s finances. They claim everyone is equal, that each person has a chance to become a leader. But this isn’t true.If such a world existed today wouldn’t we say it was unfair, even corrupt? With Posh Boys Robert Verkaik issues a searing indictment of the public school system and outlines how, through meaningful reform, we can make society fairer for all.”

Over the weekend I spoke with a teacher who told me some of her children come to school with no breakfast, that she spends her own money on educational resources and that education is seen by some as useless. Some teachers are turning to online donations to support their schools.

The disparity between private/public resourcing and education provision is stark, but the effects of educational apartheid operates at a deeper social and cultural level.

Paul Willis’ had previously (1977) explored the parallel educational pathway of how working class boys get working class jobs.

” Learning to Labour opens by posing two related research statements. First, ‘The difficult thing to explain about how middle class kids get middle class jobs is why others let them’ (1977: 1). Second, ‘The difficult thing to explain about how working class kids get working class jobs is why they let themselves’ (1977: 1). These statements are immediately followed by some remarks concerning the latter. ‘It is too facile to say’, Willis states, ‘that “they”, that is, the working class kids, “have no choice”’, because, he continues, ‘there is no obvious physical coercion’ or ‘mass ideological conviction’ that forces them to join the ‘industrial army’ (1977: 1). Moreover, these kids – or, rather, boys, or, using their own self-selected label, ‘lads’ – are aware of, as Willis puts it, ‘the inferior rewards, undesirable social definition, and increasing intrinsic meaninglessness, of manual work: in a word its location at the bottom of a class society’ (1977: 1). Indeed, it is this puzzle that inspires Willis to try to understand so that he can explain why ‘the lads’, as he puts it in the second statement ‘let themselves’, as it seems willingly, become part of a new generation of industrial workers.”

The private school sector has to be seen alongside Willis’ previous work. Does it stack up today?

I would suggest that that a good deal of self selection is still occurring in many state schools but in the context of changing social and occupational structures. The working class ‘lads’ of Willis’ time still exist, but they do not select the school they attend. They have the theoretical opportunity at school to select the outcomes expected of the private school attendees because, as Willis suggested, there is no obvious physical coercion or ‘mass ideological conviction’ for them to fail at education relative to their privately educated ‘peers’.

Many State school attendees go on to achieve the same outcomes as the private school, but it is their relative failure as a group that is at issue.  Putting aside of course questions about how we measure success – is attendance at Oxbridge always a better outcome than an City and Guilds in Plumbing – there is no doubt that the two educational systems are part of the wider unequal structural sifting of children into future occupations. Private school attendees have the option to do anything they like: to drop out, to get an apprenticeship, to become self employed, to become a cabinet minister, because they surf the waves of privilege their schools provide. However, many state schools cannot provide the same structures of privilege, and indeed the occupational and social structure as it currently is established, requires then to fulfil other roles. There can only be one Prime Minister at a time. There are 600,000 registered nurses. That’s the structural opportunity.

The upper middle class do not want the ‘children of the oiks’ competing for a place at Oxbridge, they do not want their offspring being denied the chance of becoming PM. The private school sector is a good selection method to weed out potential competitors. They can use the myth of meritocracy to satisfy themselves that their children are more hard working and more intelligent and thus more deserving than the rest. The idea of meritocracy, in any case, is not only false could be a bad idea (Mark 2019) as it falsely leads people to become more selfish and self congratulatory.

Sutton Trust research fellow Dr Philip Kirby, who wrote the ‘Leading People‘ report in 2016 said:

“Young people from more advantaged backgrounds often have broader professional social networks, which can be used to access certain jobs, as well as parents who might be more able to support them through unpaid internships, which are increasingly important for career development.”   It may be that they have more ‘cultural capital’.

As we are simultaneously products of biological, social and psychological mechanisms, success (or failure) at securing cultural and social capital and then economic capital cannot be easily predicted at the individual level. Contingency also intervenes in some people’s lives at critical junctures. However the highly structured nature of educational opportunities favours those with a positive suite of biological, social, psychological, spatial, cultural and symbolic assets. Of paramount importance is a child’s material assets provided by affluence, at the accident of birth.

Wealth buys privilege buys educational privilege buys cultural capital…..


#privilege #education #class #wealth #mythofmeritocracy

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