7 reasons why state schools do not need independent schools*
1 Different planet
Independent schools – especially the top boarding schools – inhabit an entirely different world. Their staff and students live in a bubble, divorced from the lives of ordinary people. This disconnect with reality can be betrayed in attitudes, values and behaviour that may be patronising or even offensive.
State schools exist to educate whole communities and to look after all their students. They are fundamentally inclusive. Independent schools pick and choose whom they recruit and retain. They are fundamentally exclusive. This difference is hard to reconcile and results in different mindsets, that can easily be misinterpreted as ‘low expectations’.
3 Different skill: different job
Independent schools have a binding contractual arrangement with the parents who pay the fees. Students are likewise sub-contracted to play their part. In state schools you have to win hearts and minds in a different sense and in all sorts of different ways. State school staff develop a different set of skills in understanding others, as well as fundamentally different work practices.
4 Social similarity, not diversity
Independent schools are about buying social exclusivity, alongside academic success. Not having to mix with the rest of the population means you are less likely to really understand and empathize with the lives of those unlike yourself, especially the most challenged or challenging. This was clearly demonstrated in the recent TV series Tough Young Teachers.
The products of independent schools, by and large, run the country. They dominate politics, business, the professions and the media. Independent schools are a fundamental ingredient in the divide that keeps the haves at the top-of-the-tree and the rest in their place. The gap is getting wider and wastes the talent of so many people. This is a moral issue and relates to the type of country we want to be part of.
6 The academic myth
Independent schools, by and large, educate and reward those who are well suited to written and spoken academic, abstract, intellectual work. State schools educate these types of students too, but also a huge range of others, often a majority, who find this type of work very difficult or who excel in technical, practical or applied fields of learning. This means state school staff understand and value a more diverse range of learners, their talents and achievements.
7 Incomparable economic model
The economics of state and independent education are poles apart, making many comparisons meaningless. Pupil-teacher and support staff ratios, facilities and financial clout are very different. State secondary schools may receive £5K/year per head, independent schools at least double that plus all the little extras for things like specialist kit and trips abroad. The full independent boarding package can be over £30K/year, when the average cost of state boarding is around £10K.
• For state schools, read non-selective, neighbourhood comprehensive schools
• For independent schools, read selective, fee-charging, day and boarding schools
• There’s a big difference between the top, well-known independent schools and the rest – but it’s the well-known names that David Cameron and Tristram Hunt have in mind as sponsors of state schools