CHILDREN AT prep schools are getting a much better deal than those at state primaries, a headteachers' leader said yesterday. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, challenged the Prime Minister to fund primary schools as well as prep schools.
Fees for day prep school pupils last year were pounds 5,622. In state primaries, average spending per pupil is around pounds 1,750. Mr Hart, who represents state school headteachers, told a union conference in Dublin that prep schools and state schools are in different worlds. Children in private schools have a broader curriculum, more specialist teachers, better facilities, more space for sport and class sizes that are half those in state schools.
Mr Hart appealed to Tony Blair to remove the barriers between the state and private sector "lock, stock and barrel". Mr Hart said: "I understand why some parents take their children out of some state primaries and send them to prep schools. Though, as standards rise in state schools, some people will think twice about whether they use prep schools. We should not tolerate a situation in which state schools are second class."
Many state primaries match prep schools in academic standards but education is not just about literacy and numeracy, it is also about PE, drama, art and music. He said: "The pupil-teacher ratio in prep schools is 1:10.9, about 100 per cent better than that in maintained schools. Typically classes are 16 or 17 in prep schools. In the state sector the average class size for eight to 11-year-olds is 28.4 ... I would regard the expenditure of pounds 3bn it would cost to reduce class sizes to 25 for all primary school children as a top priority."
While prep schools are able to deploy teachers to ensure that arts and sport are taught, state schools find it impossible to "get the curriculum quart into the current pint timetable".
The average space for sport in prep schools is more than 18 acres, the equivalent of nine full-sized football pitches. More than 90 per cent have specialist rooms for science and music, a rarity in state primaries. "If, as the Prime Minister rightly points out, the barriers to developing young people, not just academically but as caring, compassionate and confident human beings, need to be broken down, we must remove all barriers, lock, stock and barrel."
Mr Hart also attacked ministers for constant interference in schools. "To offer to work in partnership is not sufficient. There has to be trust. Government must stop using blunderbuss criticisms of alleged conservatism in the teaching profession." Headteachers were, he said, "punch drunk from a stream of local education authority surveys and questionnaires which divert them from the central task of managing the quality of teaching and learning in their schools".
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said independent schools did have more facilities and smaller classes. "But that is no guarantee that the education they receive is better. Our primary schools stand shoulder high.
"One of the strong contradictions in state education is that teachers' morale is low but the efforts they make have increased and the achievement of children is constantly improving."