The end of private education?

By Saksha Menezes |

An institution for the privileged | image from Unsplash

At the most recent Labour Party Conference, delegates endorsed radical plans that would abolish private schools by removing their charitable status and redistributing their endowments, investments and properties to the state sector.

Delegates approved a motion that said such a commitment should be included in the party’s next general election manifesto. The motion included the provision that universities would be limited to admitting the same proportion of private school students as in the wider population, currently 7%.

We need to rethink our approach to education…

This proposal is the latest in different suggestions to combat stagnating social mobility in the UK. Even though there is disagreement about how to combat this issue, it is clear that we need to rethink our approach to education.

The achievement gap between poorer children and their better-off peers continues to be stark, and the privately educated elite continue to dominate the UK’s leading professions.

For example, 74% of top judges working the high court and appeals court were privately educated. In journalism, more than half of leading print journalists went to independent schools, with just one in five having attended comprehensive schools, which currently educate 88% of the population.

… I have witnessed first-hand the privilege
afforded to students attending these institutions

Having attended a private secondary school in London, I have witnessed first-hand the privilege afforded to students attending these institutions.

When applying for university, we had teachers assigned to help us with our personal statements, interview preparations and extracurricular classes in the subjects we were applying for to help with further reading.

We also had a significant number of teachers who had graduated from Oxbridge and other leading UK higher education institutions. Poorly funded comprehensive schools do not have the time or resources to offer such services to their students.

However, I think that Labour’s suggestion is not quite the right approach to this increasingly important issue. The middle class would still have an advantage in the state system, monopolising the best private schools.

The government needs to do more to reduce educational inequality

The government needs to do more to reduce educational inequality. Given that it is difficult to reduce the benefit of familial wealth in education, there are two things the government could do.

First, increasing funding to state schools. This could be done through removing private school charitable status. Private schools allegedly save £522 million in tax because of their misplaced status, and this money could be used to increase funding to struggling state schools.

Secondly, insisting on fairer and contextualised university admissions would be a step towards greater educational equality. This is already done through lower grade requirements for students from low income areas, but

I would argue that a good step forward would be to introduce interviews which would give universities the chance to accurately judge the capability of a student on an individual level.

Despite disagreeing with the approach taken by the Labour Party, these discussions are very much worth having. It is not simply about the quality of education for students but about equality of opportunity and if all students have an equal chance to fulfil their potential, that will not just benefit them but this country as a whole.