Dear Virginia, My daughter's just 10 and she's very sensitive and bright. My ex-husband wants her to go to the local comprehensive next year. The school is fine but it's a bit rough and I just don't feel it's right for her. My parents would pay for her to go to private school, where I think she could really fly. I desperately want this for her, but he's adamant she should go into the state system (he went to a comprehensive himself) and says I should have more faith. I just don't know how to solve this.

Yours sincerely, Anita

In this situation, what you need in order to come to a decision is information. As much as you can find. It's amazing how many people make decisions based on vague ideas of what they think might be the reality, without actually investigating it. So I winced when I read that your ex-husband thinks you must have more "faith". Faith is the last thing either of you need. You need facts.

You, your ex-husband and your daughter must go round all the possible state schools in your area and all the private ones, too. Find out the facts. Talk to the teachers. See if the pupils look happy. Look at their league tables. Watch your daughter's face as she enters the brand new science block or art department or whatever it might be that enthuses her. If she's sporty, are there sports facilities? If she's keen on computers, how up-to-date is the school? Gauge how charming or off-hand the staff are. Talk to parents and ask the ones who send their children to the local state schools whether they, had they the money, would wish their children could go to another, better, school.

The truth is that while there are some terrific state schools around – and you may indeed be living in a catchment area that features such a gem, in which case there's absolutely no point in shelling out for private – statistically, independent schools do much better than state ones. Indeed, it's said that while we have some of the worst state schools, we also have probably the best independent schools in the world alongside.

My own feeling is that it's obviously right to send your child to the best school you can find, whatever it is.

It's true that your ex-husband, since he doesn't see your daughter day to day, is not perhaps the best person to say which school she should attend, and certainly he shouldn't be imposing his own leftwing principles on your daughter at the expense of her future happiness and success. But at the same time, you shouldn't assume that the private schools nearby are better than the state ones without doing proper investigations.

One of the best arguments for independent schools I've heard came from an ex-public schoolboy. "I was determined to do as little as possible at school," he said. "I didn't think it was cool. But because the aims of my independent school were so high, when I did 50 per cent of the work, I still ended up far ahead of my contemporaries in state schools."

Neither you nor your ex-husband should be making sweeping statements or decisions without checking out what's really available.

I changed my mind

I empathise with you both on your dilemma and can see the argument from both sides. I had attended the local primary school, had scraped through to the local grammar school and had done well during my professional career, so why should our son not thrive academically at the local school? Private school went against all that I believed in. My husband, on the other hand, had a private education throughout his childhood, and thought that this would be the route to adopt with our son.

We eventually agreed that he would attend the local primary school until the age of 10, after which we would make a further decision, according to his "needs".

If you feel that private education is best for your daughter, you have to fight your cause (and this comes from a woman who didn't want her son privately educated). I take it that you have all visited both schools.

Why not draw up a "for" and "against" list for both schools – including exam results, and try to show your ex that you have thought about it logically. It is, however, important that when you and your ex have decided on the chosen school, your daughter can see that you have thoroughly researched it and are jointly making what you feel is the best choice. The argument my husband used with me, that won me over, was: "We owe it to our child to give him the best possible start in life that we can."

I wish you luck. I have to admit, I was wrong. Private education for our son has been the best moral "compromise" that I have ever made.

Name and address supplied

Find out the facts

It sounds as if you're between a rock and a hard place. It's interesting you describe her as "sensitive", then later use the word "rough" to describe the state school. Are you also describing yourself at that age? And were you "sheltered" in private school? Will it create a family rift with your ex-husband if your parents pay for private education? If so, how might that affect your daughter?

Your daughter might well fly at private school, but she might also do that at state school. I think you need to investigate exactly what both schools are really offering. Write down the specific pros and cons about each, and discuss them with your ex-husband. If, in spite of your misgivings, your daughter goes to the state school, then your parents might be happy pay for extra-curricular activities/ school trips etc.

Jan clark

By email

Next week's dilemma...

Dear Virginia, I had an American friend at school and we've kept in touch. I went to stay with her and the problem is everything in her eyes is just so "wonderful". We couldn't talk properly because she just saw the best of everything – people, places, food. She was divorced from her husband but even he was "wonderful". I know she has problems because she had a breakdown last year, but it was like being with a wall of sugar. How can I get through to the real person underneath? Yours sincerely, Marion

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