Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

The private school grievances of head teachers like Frances King do not deserve such a public hearing

As a beneficiary of a private education I know it confers obvious and provable advantages. Why should parents demand even more?
  • @archiebland

Jim Davidson, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Paul Daniels: to these storied ranks of the great and good who have made public threats to leave the country, a new name must be added. But this name’s a little less familiar, and, unlike the above trio, she’s actually going to do it. As she heads off for a new job in Switzerland, Roedean headmistress Frances King has decried British attitudes to private schools. She is, it seems, sick of this “irksome” place, where you “constantly have to defend independent education.”

Nor is Ms King the only significant figure in the sector to take that view recently. Last week, Wellington head Anthony Seldon bemoaned the “hatred that dare not speak its name” faced by his pupils, who were up against “jealousy and hostility” and were being “discriminated against” in their applications to university. Dr Seldon has not, as yet, packed his bags and made for the Eurostar, but it can surely only be a matter of time. 

Dr Seldon and Ms King are not obvious candidates for our sympathy. They are, to put it simply, the most visible representatives of a segment of society which already does disproportionately well, and which is cross that it isn’t allowed to do even better. As an old public schoolboy myself, I would be sorry if it were, indeed, the case that my sort faced “hatred”, “jealousy and hostility” – even if such emotions seem almost justified when I think about the unearned advantages that my education conferred. But – besides my own experience, which suggests that mostly people are just sympathetic about all the compulsory buggery that they assume was on the curriculum – the myriad figures simply don’t bear it out. Here's one simple example: in 2012, independent school pupils accounted for 7 per cent of British children, 37 per cent of Oxford applications, and 42.5 per cent of the new Oxford intake.

The direction of the advantage is surely clear. Yes, there will of course be public school pupils bright enough for a place at a top university who don’t get one – but there will be state school pupils in the same position. The difference is, their head teachers don’t get the platform to complain about it. The system is, at most, a little bit less unfair than it used to be.

Perhaps it’s understandable that Seldon and King are unhappy about even that: they are, after all, providers of a commercial service to parents who expect their money to buy results. I’ve come across some of those people, and they can be seriously charmless. Quite often their progeny are not as ferociously clever as they imagine. Of course, they’re free to be bitter about it if they want. But it would make as much sense for the rest of the country to bow to their demands for a more advantageous ride as it would be for opponents to let Manchester United win because their players were so expensive. If the consequences of the education are so awful, the answer’s simple: don’t buy it in the first place. Or, better yet, take your terribly, terribly fortunate brood to join Ms King in Switzerland. No one here will miss you.