“Parents forced to pay £13,000 in private school fees” scream newspaper reports and I want to bang my head on the desk. Nobody is forcing anyone.
According to latest research, parents are working longer hours these days to keep their kids at independent schools. Isn’t that just a little heartbreaking? Surely spending time with your children is more precious and worthwhile than a perceived better education? I’d call it priceless.
And who says it’s better anyway? If you take scholarly achievements as the be all and end all, or the access to top universities, I concede you’re bound to be impressed. But I cling on to a belief that even this comes largely from the child itself and a start in life given by parents rather than teachers alone.
Like millions of parents, if I made more sacrifices, I could send my girls to a private school. But they will never set foot in one. I’m fed up of people telling me it brings more discipline and teaches manners. Don’t people do that at home?
A policeman once told me his children had never had a holiday so that he could afford the fees of an unremarkable local school. I found that so sad for them. This was a man with two children. If you consider the fees, equipment and scarily priced uniform, how could anyone except the super rich afford such astronomical prices for say three or more children these days
It’s reported that some parents are working ever longer hours so they can stump up the cash. An increase in annual fees last year of some 4.6 per cent saw parents paying £13,179 per child in fees. At the same time, the number of children sent to private schools dropped for the third year running as cost outstripped increases in salaries.
Forgive me, but couldn’t this be a good thing? I hope those parents who could no longer afford such steep fees have had their eyes opened to the fact that actually, state education is mostly okay or even, fantastic.
My friend Clair says that’s exactly what happened. After sending her daughter to private school for three years, her husband changed jobs and endured a period of unemployment. Paying for education had to stop.
“I did wonder what we had been paying for, to be honest,” says Clair.
“One of the things I had loved about the independent school had been the extra curricular activities, there was such a range with ballet, drama and tuition in different musical instruments. Budgeting meant we had to cut down but my daughter continued with some classes at a community centre – she made more friends too.”
People tell me I’m mad. Of course private education is better, look at the class sizes, the work ethic, the opportunities and contacts your kids could make. But then I think how my girls walk to school with their friends, how their teachers discipline them and our own family’s work ethic and I know they will be okay.
Everywhere I look parents are clamouring to tell me how brilliant their children are, how they are the next big thing in their chosen field and I wonder what happened to just getting on with it.
After love, a good education is the best thing you can give your children, so why can a choice of schooling become little more than bragging fodder for parents who should know better?
I’ve always felt that if some people have fewer opportunities than others simply because their parents aren’t in a position to pay, then this is deeply unfair. It’s all very well discussing families “choosing” or being forced to pay for independent schools – but some will never have that choice. And they’re likely to be people like me, who come from where I come from.
So-called emotional intelligence, nurturing friendships, working hard, chasing ambitions and crucially, knowing how to get on with people are what matters to me and what I want for my children. They are at school with youngsters from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. Day in, day out understanding and respect are reinforced. Call me naïve but I’m not sure that happens in a fee-paying class.
When my children were younger, my faith in state education wavered. An Oftsed report for their school was ‘satisfactory’ though I’d call parts pretty disappointing, especially the bit about the school being ‘poorly managed’. But this soon changed thanks to old fashioned hard work and some wise planning – a great lesson for pupils, I felt.
I also had concerns about racist language heard in the playground and went up to the school to complain my daughter had been hit. This was down to the ‘rough kids’ in the school, other parents told me. I was upset and wondered if there was an alternative. But what difference would private school bring? Mixing solely with middle class peers whose parents all felt they could buy advantage? No thanks.
Where we live also plays a part. Our local schools, in a leafy Staffordshire village, are excellent, not for us a postcode lottery or competition for places. Perhaps if facilities closer to home were dubbed ‘woeful’ my fine principles would be more compromised. Yet they’re not so I stand firm.
In weighing up the pros and cons of the state versus private sector, I’ve inevitably reflected on my own academic milestones as a working class grammar school girl. I got to study languages including Italian and Russian – where’s the chance to do that without paying for it these days I wondered. But my children aren’t me – they can make their own choices, their own mistakes and their own way in life.
My children’s headmaster is an inspiration. I’m impressed by the approach to bullying and the caring ethos everyone works so hard to foster. I love their school.
I believe there’s a silent majority of parents whose children work hard at state school, do well, follow a path they want to – be it university or a vocational path. They end up as happy as any of us are, loving and caring parents themselves who want the best for their kids.