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May 14, 2012


gastro george

You omit networking. While familial- and class-related networking would still exist if private schools didn't, there must also be an unhealthy amount of school-related networking giving privately-schooled children a leg-up.

Extra-curricular advantages are well-documented. Didn't the Observer or Guardian recently run a piece about Etonians in acting - IIRC they have fully equipped theatres and professional directors on the staff.

Mike Killingworth

It is difficult to see what can be done about this - GG's points are well made, and even if a truly left government banned "public" schools they would simply relocate offshore.

If the Beeb were simply staffed on a hereditary caste basis, for example, it is difficult to believe that its output would change much.


Aren't public schools (or at least the "top" ones) beginning to fill up with the children of rich Russians and Chinese? I don't know if this is in large enough numbers to make a difference. But if so, could that mean that the benefits are likely to be confined to fewer British children, but be even more advantageous to those that do get in as their contact book will include oligarchs and the international super-rich?


"you cannot eliminate the advantage that private schools have over state schools merely by eliminating their educational superiority - not that this is feasible, given how expensive it would be."

Yeah - and it's not just the expense. You could spend all the money in the world, it still wouldn't compensate for the overwhelming advantage that private schools have over state ones; their exclusivity.


re. the City: I'd say that the products of public schools have no advantage in trading and quant, but a considerable advantage in sales, because they know what it takes to make rich people like them.


@PaulB - ta. That's my impression. But trading/quant etc is a lot of jobs

Account Deleted

Gove and Monbiot/Penny are as one in thinking that the solution to better social mobility is intervention at the start of the process, either by improving state school standards or by abolishing private schools. Neither would be effective.

The better approach would be to mandate a fairer division of the spoils. This is already being mooted in respect of female representation on company boards. What we need are quotas for the professions.

The qualifying bodies for accountancy, law and medicine should be required to award 80% of their qualifications to applicants who spent their secondary years at state schools.

I'd go further and insist that Russell Group univesity places be allocated proportionately by school - i.e. the top 10 students in each 6th form get first dibs.

These two measures would at a stroke remove the instrumental advantage of private schools. Indeed, sharp-elbowed parents would immediately see that the best opportunity for their kids would lie in state schools.


Football. There is an intensive coaching and hot-housing system that thousands of children enter and produces experienced competitive footballers.

Drama. There are lots of theatre groups round the country that produce excellent actors.

The key is individual mentoring and training in a competitive environment from an early age. Public schools do this, state schools don't. They aren't meant to do it, and they aren't equipped or funded to do it.

If we want to produce excellence from ordinary children then we need other institutions that do that.

Tim Almond

The Olympic team comparison is somewhat bogus. Half of the medallists were privately educated because we win medals in the sort of sports with a high equipment cost like sailing and dressage that only a small number of rich kids do.

As far as entertainment, there is a huge amount of connection between people. Remember Peter's Friends and how it reflected reality? That Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry and Tony Slattery were all at Cambridge together. That's not to say that these people aren't talented, but that they got the eyeballs that other people, perhaps more talented didn't get. Some kid working on some genius comedy from a pub in Croydon isn't going to get the same powerful people seeing him as the Cambridge Footlights gets.


PaulB, as ever what you say makes sense. But isn't an advantage in sales pretty significant? I don't know about the City, but in most businesses rainmakers rule.

Tony Woolf

From people I talk to, a major reason for wanting to put your child into private school is not so much the teaching as the other children. But not mainly for the useful contacts when they grow up; it's that the other kids in the class will have parents who are concerned that they will do well academically and go on to good jobs, and this will be reflected in behaviour. The effect of one's group of friends and acquaintances on success is now being studied academically, but a lot of parents think they already know the answer.
And of course private schools have sanctions on kids who disrupt classes, that aren't available to state schools that must try to educate all comers.


From experience I would agree that bright state-educated people would find fewer barriers in the City than the media - at least during the '80s and '90s. Reasons are obvious. Nowadays my worry is that there seem fewer and fewer openings for decent jobs in the professions - the competition is getting stiffer so the standards/barriers are going up. Social drift seems downward and displacing state-educated new entrants.

The problem is low growth and for this reason I am concerned that the Treasury will question whether it is worth-while or desirable to upgrade the state system - on the principle that scum and cream always rise then intelligent and hardworking and gifted people will rise even through the state system. They may lack the social advantages - but they make good middle-caste workers.

Tom Addison

Isn't it the case that private schools exist for the sole purpose of being better than state schools, therefore they'll always offer an unfair advantage?

From what I've seen at work, private schools are places that bring rich kids together, create networks and then send them out to dominate certain professions.

Mark Thyme

What people seem to miss is that the top private schools--the ones we're talking about--are highly, highly selective. St Paul's Girls School, for example, take 100 out of 700 who apply. But even this understates the competitiveness. Head teachers at private primary schools actively dissuade girls from applying who they don't think can get in. So the applicant pool is very capable to begin with.

Yes, parents pay a lot. But top private schools also have plenty of bursaries. I think around 15% are given bursaries at SPGS. And even where parents don't qualify, but aren't rich, if they have only one child (as many middle class parents do these days), they will make extraordinary personal sacrifices and take on astonishing amounts of debt to put their kids through these schools.

Another misapprehension is that these kids get spoon fed, and that's why they do so well. They don't, not at the best schools anyway. Many do added sport and music. So a not unusual school day at a day school is up at 6:30, practice, get to school for 8:30, home by 5pm, homework, dinner, homework until 9:30. These kids learn a heroic amount of self-discipline from a very early age.

I'm crappy comprehensive educated and marvel at what these kids attempt and achieve.


Is anyone aware of any research on the outcomes for kids who went to private schools on the old assisted places scheme (Government paid for poor kids to go to private schools) & bursaries in absolute terms or compared to those that stayed in state school?

It would be lovely to be able to see what happened to kids of similar academic "abilities" and parental income before they moved sector. But can't imagine the data exists. You could look at income outcomes for kids from the same geographical origins who got the same grades at GCSE/A-level (one group at private school, other at state schools) to start to think about a top up impact.

My personal bias is that private schoools add genuine value in grade attainment for working class kids through higher expectations and teaching resource, as well as an impact on career success on top of that. A similar impact might be seen from grammar schools.

My strong impression is that if I'd have stayed in the state system I'd have largely failed my GCSEs whilst perhaps still doing well at maths and following that to A-level. I got a free place to private school on the basis of a decent maths exam, a terrible english exam and very high marks on verbal and numeracy reasoning. My marks were terrible when I joined the private school and my writing was barely legible. 6 years later my marks were excellent at a-level (and before that GCSE) on the basis of relatively little work - but I can't conceive of making that improvement without the change of school. I'd love to know whether there is any evidence of impacts of this kind more generally for working class kids or whether this experience is a minority one.

Account Deleted

@Rohan, There is no dispute that private eduation works. You benefited and many others would have too. The issue is why that quality of education was not available to all.

Exam results are a ranking, not an absolute measure. That is why people get exercised by grade inflation. If everyone gets an A, it becomes meaningless as a method of discriminating between individuals.

Private education works only so long as there are both winners and losers. Eton needs sink comps. State education will always be a relative failure so long as private schools exist, as the raison d'etre of the latter is to be better than the former, both in terms of exam results and more subtle advantages.

Co-opting a few working-class kids on bursaries is nice for them personally, but it does not constitute a commitment to social mobility.

Fat Bloke on Tour

Fag packet analysis - what does a private education deliver?

30% - Accent
30% - Confidence
30% - Networking / Contacts
10% - Quality education.

This is the history, the problem now is the energy the upper middle class parents are now putting into their efforts to hoover up all the opportunities going, they are converting their rapidly expanding wealth and income into larger famillies and a naked working of the system.

There is a reason why interns are now a recognised step in the career ladder.

Laban Tall

I'm sure it's no coincidence that George Monbiot and Lawrie Penny are both privately educated. So were Crossman, Crosland and Shirley Williams, who destroyed the grammars...

I'd like to propose a government convention - that Secretaries of State for Education must themselves be state educated.


The first thing I would recommend is to do rsrcaeeh on all the schools you are considering. What are their students test scores like? Is the school rated by the state? What kind of special programs do they have to best meet a variety of needs? Gifted and Talented? Dyslexia? Accelerated Reading? Most private schools have an Open House for the public. Go,ask questions and get a tour.Next ask parents with children who have kids at those schools what their experience is like. Check with the kids too if you can.You mentioned saving $$ during elementary school. But if the public school is several grades behind in what the kids are learning, he may not be able to catch up enough to get into a private high school. Or you may have to spend money on private tutoring to get him up to speed. But if the public school has a good gifted program, the gap may be filled. It wouldn't hurt to set up a speak with the admissions person at the private high school you might eventually hope to enroll him in. Ask them what percentage of their students come from public and private schools. Find out the expectations for incoming students. I'm sure they'd be happy to advise you.Until your child actually starts school, it can be hard to tell what will be the best fit.Be ready with Plan B.One of my sons went to a private school for K-12. The other started out in the same school but we found it wasn't working for him. So we switched him to a public school with a gifted and talented program. When it was time for high school, he was ready to go to the all boys private school that his brother attended. It turned out to be a great fit for both of them for totally different reasons.Do the rsrcaeeh, make a choice,but remain flexible. The best school for a child is where he can be happy learning. +13Was this answer helpful?


I teach at an alternative ed scoohl. One of the vocational programs we have offered, in addition to shop, auto mechanics, etc., was an introductory program for students who wanted to enter a health care profession. The woman who taught the course was an RN, and the students learned ethics, medical terms, record keeping, and also visited job locations in various medical facilities.

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