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 are subject to change.