Are private schools really worth the cost? Not just for the students and their parents, but for the economy? Are they better than public schools?
This is a protracted and sometimes polarising debate, with advocates on both sides of the divide equally iron-willed in their beliefs.
It’s also not a new issue for us in Study International; we analysed the matter a while back in 2015. You can still access that article here.
Today, the same questions continue to be raised.
In her recent commentary, award-winning Sydney-based columnist and author Elizabeth Farrelly put forward a strong case against the private school system, even going as far as to say:
“It beats me why such funding [into private schools] even exists. Indeed, it beats me why private schools exist. Why they’re even legal.”
She later adds:
“Private schools heighten inequality, privileging the privileged, hogging the teaching talent and siphoning off kids already equipped with reading backgrounds, so depriving the public system of beneficial peer-to-peer learning.”
Is she right? Study International decides to put the question to students this time and here’s what they say:
Katie Fong, a Master’s student at the University of Sheffield, attended a state school, then a private school, and finally a grammar school. Fong, therefore, understands all sides of the spectrum when it comes to schooling.
Fong loved her experience at a private school but acknowledges it is not without its drawbacks. She claimed private school is “very much a bubble away from other schools.”
She, however, wishes to dispel the idea that everyone at private school is “stuck up.”
“Many kids at the private schools had to go there because their parents were in the Army or RAF or something similar, so they did not get a choice,” she told Study International.
“Despite the stereotype, not all the kids at my school were stuck up and posh.”
Fong told Study International her private school had much longer days in comparison to her other schools.
For example, she had “compulsory chapel every morning and on a Wednesday lunchtime for the whole of lunch”, and used to dread having to attend Saturday school when her public school peers were out socialising.
However, she admits the longer school holidays were a definite bonus.
There were many benefits to private school, she added. The pupils had so many “activities and field trips. The school dinners were great. I boarded occasionally which was like a big sleepover. There was a big focus on games, often with matches away,” she said.
A huge part of Fong’s private school experience was “the lovely matrons in the houses who always helped.” Most crucially, the small classes were of great benefit to Fong.
“I had three people in my art class for GCSE,” she told Study International, “which I think helped me get an A*.”
Fong attributes her success to “very different schools that provided different opportunities.”
“My sixth form grammar school was much more academic with a broader choice of A-levels because it was a much bigger school with many more students,” she said.
“And as a result, I believe that I achieved better grades than I would have received at Wycliffe [her private school]. I believe that at the time and due to my circumstances Wycliffe was the best option for me.”
Caitlin Powell, an Arts University Bournemouth student, went to a private co-educational boarding school between the ages of 8 and 16.
Powell thinks private schools “aren’t for everyone”.
She told Study International:
“I don’t necessarily agree that private schools do offer a higher standard of education.”
“I found that teachers and other members of staff would cut corners in terms of resources and teaching just because they knew they could due to the lax rules that are set for privately run schools.”
Powell claims at her school they didn’t actually complete their SATs – statutory assessments carried out in British schools – as they were not a requirement.
However, much like Fong, Powell does recognise the benefit of smaller class sizes at private schools.
When she left her private school aged 16 for college, she noticed a significant difference in class size. Her old school had roughly 800 pupils – aged from 2 to 18 years – and her college had over 5,000.
“The class sizes were a plus of private school, especially for someone like me with very slow processing skills,” she told Study International.
“Although, personally I would never send my children to private school as I really don’t see the difference and I don’t feel like it has benefited me at all.”
Powell claimed if she had enough money to send her children to private school she would save it instead and use it to help towards their futures. She said it would be used for something like a deposit towards a house.
“Coming from a very working-class background and watching my mother sacrifice a lot while my grandmother paid for my education because she thought it would be helpful in the long run, I actually found it harder to fit in and sustain friendships as I was very aware from a young age that I was different to the other children in my classes.”
Powell feels her schooling didn’t better prepare her for university than another school would have done. The focus at her school was always on university or full-time work. Apprenticeships or equivalent pathways were never discussed. The general consensus, Powell claimed, was if you didn’t go to university, it was because you weren’t clever enough.
Similarly, Fong feels her private school education didn’t give her an edge over her peers. “It’s just a different experience,” she claimed.
“At the end of the day everyone ends up at uni, or in a job,” Fong told Study International, “and a school is just your experience with support for the first level of study.”
“I know many people that went to state or comprehensive schools and that have done very well. I think that doing well or doing badly depends on the person, their attitudes and the way that they have been bought up rather than the school.”
“If you are bought up well, with the right attitude, then you will do well to the best of your ability,” Fong said.
What do you think? Whose arguments ring true for you? We feel both sides raise some salient points so perhaps Powell is right to say private school just isn’t for everyone. While it can provide the schooling some need for adult life, for many others, it seems the money could be spent wisely elsewhere.
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