Should we abolish private schools in the UK?

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My thoughts on the British private school dilemma

First, it is worth noting that I went to a private school. As much as I loved the experience, and to this day appreciate every opportunity I got (and continue to get) because of it, it is clear to me that the current education system we have is not fair nor equal, and shows just how little our current UK government prioritises the importance of education, in relation to other sectors. It should not be that in the UK we pride ourselves on the freedom we give our citizens, but then offer a wide variety of amazing and unnecessary options for some, and not have the funding for stationary or learning support for others, based purely on the financial background of both.

For those that aren’t from the UK, I’ll give you a bit of context. Since the early 2000s, funding (on average per pupil) has fallen by around half for secondary schools[1] in England. The development is similar for mental health services and social care across England and Wales. Although most private schools are registered charities, it is often the case that there are too many facilities and teachers in one school, that then aren’t available in another. Asking to level out the playing field should not be deemed ‘communist’ or extreme[2], but rather necessary to give all our children the best possible chance in life. This is yet another way that politics is splitting up the nation, in a social aspect, and with the dismantlement of this system I believe this wealth and social divide will dissolve. Ridding our society of this imbalance would be the most successful way to unite the nation, long term.

As previously stated, I went to a private school with boarding facilities for my entire education. Both schools I went to, although they had their ups and downs (as every facility does), were generally very proficient at dealing with problems like mental health, academics, and affairs centered around behaviour and work/life balance. When I wasn’t able to finish class work, staff had the time and energy to ask me why, there were a maximum of around 18 students in a class at any given time, and we had biweekly talks from various outside professionals on the topics of time management, budgeting as an adult, and what to do in various different emergency situations. This is not the case in the majority of state funded secondary schools, where kids are forced into subjects they dislike due to a lack of teachers in another subject.

The main argument that is given against the abolishment of private schools is that of the ‘postcode lottery’[3]. For around 93% of pupils in the UK, this is now what determines their quality of education. This, in an ideal world, would be acceptable, because all schools would be funded equally. However, it is no secret that the UK has a huge problem with the funding of our education system. Since Tony Blair’s 1997 famous ‘Education, education, education.’ agenda[4], the funding for this sector has been decreasing slowly. This means that schools, particularly in the north of England, have begun long ago to feel the tug between an increase of overall students (and of those with mental health issues or learning difficulties) and educational expectations, and decrease in governmentally distributed budgets they are given.

So, the question becomes, would anyone ever vote for a party that planned to abolish private education, or would any party be able to even get this vote through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Moreover, how would we be able to take away the independent structure of around two and a half thousand schools? All these questions have to be fully thought through before the debate about their right in our society even begins. It is my belief that although the charitable works that most private schools in this country do are extraordinary, they would still be able to do these works if the nature of education was more evenly distributed.

As with a lot of families that have chosen the private school route, there is a ‘culture’ of Church of England boarding schools in mine. My parents both went to religious boarding schools, due to having military fathers, and school gave them some sort of stability in their otherwise quite hectic life. For others, schools may give them chaos beyond their own teenage unpredictability. Lauren Stocks gave a speech at the Labour party 2017 conference[5], explaining how intensely wrong the Conservatives had got the care of our most vulnerable teenagers in education. In this speech, she stated that at least half of the children in the current state education system are struggling with mental health illnesses, at least partially as a result of the lack of funding for schools and teachers.

‘It is a disgusting sight, and we cannot sit on our hands any longer’.

The difficulty is, would abolishing private schools actually change this? Pouring more children into the already overwhelmed and understaffed system seems, on the surface, that it would simply make the issue worse. This is not what I am proposing. I believe that schools should all have the same baseline funding from the government. This funding would fluctuate depending on factors such as the number of students, the proportions of those students with developmental disabilities, and the average income of the area. This way, all students have the same opportunities without taking away our nation’s free will.

All things considered, I truly think that most would agree with the belief that children deserve equal opportunities, no matter their background or past. This is just one of the many ways we can implement this for our future. This would not require changing the country as we know it, but changing some of our mindsets and attitudes.

As always, I would appreciate any messages from people sharing their opinions on this topic.


[1] In the UK, the school system is split to primary schools (ages 5-11), secondary school (11-16) and sixth form or college (16-18).

[2] You can watch Nigel Farage saying this on LBC here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvXeFn4PH94

[3] In the UK, the funding of your state school will be partially from local authorities, the government and occasionally investors. The amount of money councils are able to spend on schools will of course differ area to area, and many schools in ‘rich’ areas may have multiple private investors, whereas others may have none.

[4] You can watch  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kz2ENxjJxFw

[5] You can watch Lauren’s speech here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/c8z2mqqkpygt/labour-party-conference-2017

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