Growing exodus that harms all those left behind

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The head of New Labour's favourite think- tank posed the problem in the starkest terms: schools could be forced to close because of the continuing exodus of middle-class parents from state education.

The head of New Labour's favourite think- tank posed the problem in the starkest terms: schools could be forced to close because of the continuing exodus of middle-class parents from state education.

"We are starting to get to the stage that there are real impacts on the mix [of social classes] within the state sector and the viability of some state sector schools,'' Matthew Taylor, the head of the Institute of Public Policy Research, told the conference of independent school heads last month.

That in turn, he said, made teaching very difficult and control and discipline in the classroom difficult too.

In other words, the middle-class flight is depriving state schools, particularly in the inner cities, of some of their most confident and able pupils. There is an effect on teacher moral as a result, which can then handicap the performance of the pupils that remain.

Of course, the flight from the state sector has to be kept in perspective. It is still the case that only 7 per cent of parents send their children to private schools even if the overall national number of pupils has topped the half million mark for the first time this year. You would also find far more hand wringing and soul searching among parents in the inner cities, particularly London, about whether to send their children to private schools than in the rest of the country.

However, David Woodhead, the director of the Independent Schools Council Information Services, said that about 20 per cent of those parents who had left the state sector had done so "explicitly because of dissatisfaction with the state sector''.

The advantages of the private sector for those who can afford it are obvious. For a start, the average amount spent per pupil in state schools is about half that spent in independent schools. The state figure may be around £3,500, and has risen by about 20 per cent since Labour came into office in 1997, but the private-sector figure is now approaching £7,000.

That, of course, allows the private sector to provide smaller classes with ratios of 11 pupils to every teacher in primary schools and 10 to one in secondary. State-sector class sizes have lowered in recent years in primary schools but they are still about twice as high as in the private sector.

Comments