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Eton Mess: Private Schools Should Be Abolished

Join the debate, hear the arguments and decide for yourself.

Forget the aristocracy, gentlemen’s clubs and the society pages of Tatler. Nothing encapsulates the inequality and elitism at the heart of British society quite like private education. While only 7% of Britain’s children go to private schools, they receive 42% of offers from Oxford and Cambridge universities. They dominate elite occupations: 74% of all judges attended private school, as did 50% of Britain’s most senior journalists. Twenty of Britain’s prime ministers were educated at Eton College alone. Of course, there are plenty of excellent state schools where students get top exam results. But what private schools confer in addition to good grades is that all-too-recognisable confidence and sense of privilege that ensures their alumni easy entry into the upper echelons of society. Private schools exacerbate inequality and class division in this country, and they should get the chop.

That’s the view of the private school bashers. But many would argue that it would be an infringement of basic rights to remove parents’ freedom to decide how to educate their children. Even if we did abolish private schools, middle-class parents would always succeed in giving their children an unfair advantage, by buying homes in the expensive catchment areas of the best state schools or sending their children to private schools abroad. And let’s not forget the efforts private schools are making to widen access to less privileged students. At Eton, for example, over 20 per cent of pupils are on partly or fully funded means-tested bursaries. Rather than demonising private schools, say their supporters, we should be focusing energies and resources on driving up standards in state schools for children of all backgrounds.

So who’s right and who’s wrong? Join the debate, hear the arguments and decide for yourself.


Speakers For The Motion

Grace Blakeley

Author and Economics Commentator

Staff writer at Tribune magazine and the author of Stolen: How to save the world from financialisation. Before joining Tribune, she worked as a research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and as an economics columnist for the New Statesman. She regularly appears in the media as a political commentator, including shows such as Newsnight, the Today Programme and Question Time.

Ash Sarkar

Writer, journalist and broadcaster

Writer, journalist and broadcaster. She is Senior Editor at Novara Media, a left-leaning online news outlet, where her work focuses on race, gender, class and power. She lectures in political theory at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam.
Speakers Against The Motion

Clarissa Farr

High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls School from 2006-2017

High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls School from 2006-2017. She is the former Chair of the Boarding Schools Association and President of the Girls’ Schools’ Association UK. She is also the author of The Making of Her: Why School Matters, a book that draws upon her years of experience to provide insight into the needs and drives of Generation Z, the role of parents and the challenges of leading high performing schools in the twenty-first century.

James Tooley

Pro-vice chancellor at the University of Buckingham

Pro-vice chancellor at the University of Buckingham. His ground-breaking research on low-cost private education has won numerous awards, including gold prize in the first Financial Times Private Sector Development Competition and the National Free Enterprise Award. He is the author of The Beautiful Tree: A personal journey into how the world’s poorest are educating themselves, a best-seller in India and winner of the Sir Antony Fisher Memorial Prize.

Jonathan Freedland

Guardian columnist, author and broadcaster

Guardian columnist and former foreign correspondent. He is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s contemporary history series, The Long View, as well as two podcasts, Politics Weekly America for the Guardian and Unholy, alongside the Israeli journalist Yonit Levi. He is a past winner of an Orwell Prize for journalism. He is the author of twelve books, the latest being The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World.


Speakers are subject to change.