“They want their children to be given a range of experiences and to be mentored by staff, as a matter of course, who will invest time and energy into their children as individuals regardless of their ability.”
In her article, ‘Is private school really worth it any more’? (11th January 2024, The Times, UK), Melissa Denes launches into the British Independent school system and expresses her support for the proposed policies of a future Labour administration that aims to withdraw many of the so-called financial ‘breaks’ currently enjoyed by them. Understandably, the UK Independent sector is deeply concerned about how this will impact them, but the tide is with Labour and they seem in no mood to compromise about dismantling the ‘privilege’ of private schooling (ahead of many other more pressing inequalities in society) even though several leading Labour politicians continue to educate their children privately. The article is unashamedly biased and contains most of the cliches that have been used over time against independent schooling including the use of that old Lord’s photo from almost one hundred years ago. Denes suggests that independent schooling is coming unstuck at every level – private schools in the UK, it is claimed, can no longer be guaranteed to produce the best grades, attract places at the best universities, guarantee the best paid jobs or even help make the best connections. Labour’s policies will promote a fairer system, more investment, and a subsequent rise in standards across British education.
I was state educated, going to the same comprehensive secondary school (although it wasn’t an Academy then) as Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting and then to Oxford University. Subsequently I trained as a teacher and have spent over thirty years in the profession, predominantly in independent schools, where on the whole the quality of teaching and pastoral care has been far more professional than that I experienced at one of the world’s elite universities. Along the way, I have known thousands of parents who have chosen to invest in their children’s private education, and hardly any of them have fitted in to Melissa Denes’ cynical stereotypes. Yes, many are extremely ambitious for their children, but there is a much more basic human instinct at work – they want the best for their children – they want them to be useful and productive, well-educated, principled, and resilient and they want a school that demonstrates the same values. They want their children to be given a range of experiences and to be mentored by staff, as a matter of course, who will invest time and energy into their children as individuals regardless of their ability. They reason they are much more likely to find this, though not exclusively, in independent schools. This is why, despite the coming challenges, most of these parents will continue to make every sacrifice to allow this, but it is also why UK independent school franchises are so successful in parts of the world (eg China) where the values of British independent schooling are more highly regarded than by the Labour party and where they have already tried unsuccessfully to enforce uniformity in education.