This is rather off my usual topic but I read an article in todays Times about private education and mentioned some known left-wingers being slated for putting their kids into private education which made me think. I do have a son at private school currently and I do sometimes feel that I have to make excuses for this, which is crazy! I love his school and so does he.
As some background on where I am coming from this may help: As a child I spent time in both private and state education and my kids will be following the same path. My Mum was a teacher at the local private girls school, which had a deal with the local boys school whereby teachers at both got reduced fees at either school. I know this is still the case for many private schools but in those days the reductions were significant and enabled my parents to send both me and my brother to the respective schools for secondary education. Prior to this we both went to the village primary and moved at the ages of 11 for me and 9 for my brother - so he did prep school too. My brother went to the same school my Dad went to, which sounds very grand but really it wasn't. During WW2 my Dad was sent to stay with his Granny 'in the country' as his parents lived in London, running a shop and they thought he would be safer there (funny though that a bomb dropped a few doors away from him in the country and never in the area his parents lived!!) I believe his Granny then funded his education at the local school. My Dad talks about being one of the few day boys and also how those that were there felt a real sense of responsibility in being educated privately and they should be 'giving something back' to society after their education.
For my own kids, each of them has or will have had some private education, all funded by Grandparents. But they will also be spending some time in state education too, my oldest having just finished her secondary education all of which was spent at the local comprehensive.
Clearly I come from a 'middle class' background, but I also, during my 'off the rails' period rebelled against that and went very leftie for a while, so now I seem to be made up of a whole selection of opinions and ideals. When my oldest went to her private school at 5 I really struggled with the idea of her being privately educated but partly this decision was as we were moving house and not in any official catchment area so there wasn't much option. And as my Dad said to me at the time, it's all very well having your own ideals and opinions but don't foist them on your children.. (whole other debate there..!)
So, actually I don't have a problem with private education persee. There are people who say it is unfair that those who can pay get a better education but my own experience with middle of the road private schools (we're not taking Eton here...) is that often the education itself is not hugely better, what you get more of is the overall rounding of your child, the opportunities to excel, the sport, the extra curricular stuff. Of course there are smaller classes, which is great, and certainly for our son has been great as he is quite bright - not a genius, but he is bright - and so where he wasn't able to be pushed on or challenged at his primary school, now he has opportunities to go forward. Now I am not a pushy parent and I don't think all children should be pushed, but for him he was bored at school and so then he would finish work and start mucking around - this came up in every parents evening before and now not once! In fact his teacher said in the last meeting that she was happy that he didn't get involved with the boys who muck around! He is also very sporty and now gets to play sport every day, with competitive sport against other schools every week. So for him, this move to private education has been fantastic, and he is absolutely thriving there.
However I do not expect him to come out better qualified for life, or at more of a chance of getting into uni or more likely to be a leader or world changer because of the school he went to. I think he will be getting many more opportunities and will have a chance to achieve more of his potential at a younger age, but it is simply wrong to think that if you pay for a childs education they will excel in life. In fact most 'middle class' kids I know who were privately educated at the same time I was are not in much higher positions in life because of their education. there may be a few more doctors and less cleaners (sorry for the stereotype) but I wouldn't say dramatically so. And there were a fair few, like me who threw our education in our parents faces and went off the rails totally...
And on top of all that you get the parents who feel that because they have paid for their kids education they expect more of them. I know that for us, as we are very blessed that grandparents have and are paying the fees we probably won't feel that, but I hope that I never expect more of them simply because of their education. All I want for them is to be happy and to have the opportunities to realise their potential in life.
Although the two private schools my children have experienced are wonderful, there has been the odd parent who sends their kids into private education because they see it as a sign of status. This can be challenging but we try to avoid the issue! And in fact most parents we have met have been lovely and very down to earth. Including the ones who lived in a stately home - the first time we pulled up at the house I thought we had arrived and then realised we were only at the stables... ;) In fact that alone is why I am an advocate of not doing private education all the way through. At some point your children realise the price of everything, and not necessarily the value... I remember a point when we were moving from our last house (a tiny end of terrace) and our daughter (age 11 at the time) asked if we could have a pool in the next house... our answer was you can have a pool but then we won't have a house... at that age she went to the local comp anyway, which gave her a more balanced view of life and people. There are huge benefits to private education but the downsides are that you don't get such a cross section of people attending so your kids get a narrower view of life. Of course if you don't live in a good area that can be a benefit (!) but I do think its good for our children to know what life is like across society. Another downside of course is the money - and we aren't even paying the fees but the uniform alone is extortionate and because of all the sport they need so much more!! then of course there are endless trips to places which are on offer (which we have had to say no to...)