SOME VIEWS ON PRIVATE SCHOOLS

In the Financial Times Education Supplement of September 2004 there was shown a list of the top Independent schools in the UK.
What was surprising was that not one of the schools shown was independent of the necessity of paying for the schooling provided and 77% were of what are termed ‘Faith Schools’ – Catholic, C of E, Jewish etc.
Such schools operate under an umbrella of State approval and assistance; they are accorded charitable status with all the financial advantages that this confers. It is difficult to see the justification for describing these schools as Independent when they are anything but that.
As a concept even those approving of such schools should not find it difficult to equating them with Faith schools in a Muslim country or Independent Communist schools in North Korea.
While we are saddled with these anachronisms of what ranges between religious exclusiveness and oligarchy elitism should we not at least get our terms right and call them Private schools? And although an open society should accept such schools, in my opinion, they should be treated as businesses with all the necessary obligations and taxes that commerce is required to pay for the licensed privileges given them by Society. Whatever advantages are received by the operators and recipients of these ‘Independent’ schools they have become Socially devisive. It can no longer be justified by the past reasoning that, with an Empire to run we were obliged to educate an officer and administrative class for that purpose even though these same schools were the ones that educated the past and present ruling class of this country.
In the past there was every reason for ignoring the education of the masses that were destined for either labouring in the fields or in the factories or as domestics in the homes of the elite; or else as soldiers and sailors policing the Empire.
But the world has changed since those days and a numerate and literate society educated or trained to develop the skills necessary to confront the challenges and complexities of modern life is essential to maintain and improve upon the level already achieved. Unless every individual has the opportunity to fulfil their maximum potential then both the individuals and the society they live will fall short in keeping up with those societies that give this opportunity to their citizens.
The present elitist educational system in the UK where the best can be purchased for some at the expense of others, means that some with less potential are favoured over others with more, to the detriment of  the society they live in. This is financial engineering to favour the children of the elite whereas our aim should be to have a system based on excellence for all to achieve to their maximum in place of elitism for the few. Great Britain’s decline since the end of World War 2 is not because of the loss of Empire but because we have not modernised our political and educational systems and, until we do we will continue to slide down the world league tables.
Those young people going through the Private school system, although destined for an elite place in society, are handicapped in that they are removed from an understanding of the real world about them while they are mixing with a select few in a narrow social range. Those children going through the Public (State) schools are better able to understand and deal with the vicissitudes of the many strands of society even though fewer of them are destined to take a leading role in political governance.
But because the segment of society in power is recruited mainly from those brought up through the Private school system followed by their disproportional numbers in the elite universities, they obviously favour a hierarchical social system buttressed by a continuation of the educational status quo.
The weakest of their numbers are found places in the hierarchical system and a consequence of this is that many of the brightest going through the State system are precluded from their deserved places at the top.
With a state educational system in place for all, apart from those parents willing to pay a market rate to have their children privately educated, the aim should be that of excellence in proportion to the different abilities of the children The real struggle for place and position should come after schooling by young adults with a broader awareness of the social needs and make up of the country they live in.

5 OCTOBER 2004