Michael Bawtree: The lesson is clear: get rid of private schools

Related Topics

"Educational Apartheid" is a phrase used most recently by Dr Anthony Seldon on the front page of The Independent last week, one which aptly describes the present situation of education in the UK. Statistics that have been quoted in the public domain over the last decade suggest that the average UK child is slipping behind his counterpart throughout Europe and other parts of the developed world. By whatever measure, the UK seems to be falling in the ranks.

Like Seldon, I am worried and frustrated about the never-ending debate on the woes of our educational system and the inability of successive governments to move towards a solution. Like Seldon, I deplore the bi-polar nature of our educational system. And like Seldon, I have taught in a number of well-known independent schools. That's probably where the comparison ends. During the second half of my working life as a teacher of mathematics, I decided to take a position in a state comprehensive school of 1,600 pupils, aged 11-16. Incidentally, this school was originally built for some 900 pupils. I retired last July, after 37 years in teaching.

Attitudes amongst teaching staff are entrenched on both sides of the divide. It was a struggle in the comprehensive school to address the "delightful problem" of the able and gifted child. In my own time, and that of my students, I laid on extra lessons in maths beyond the GCSE curriculum, but was told, "they will get there anyway, so why give them extra time and attention?"

If anyone has ever taught in a state comprehensive school, they will appreciate that we treat somewhat glibly the needs of the non-academic "half" for an education that is in tune with their futures. Do we honestly treat the educational aspirations of the non-academic "half" with the same respect as the academic aspirations of the others?

It would make a very interesting study to draw up a list of some 20 or 30 criteria and compare the findings in a typical state comprehensive and a typical private day school. It would become obvious why people are so keen to get their children into private schools (assuming they can afford it) or into the best state school (as a second best) if all else fails.

Without quoting chapter and verse, successive post-war governments have passed various resolutions in an attempt to improve the lot of those pupils whose parents could not afford to send them to "better" (private) schools. In so doing, they have attempted to placate both sides of the divide. Thus, the debate goes on; a few years later another bill is passed, tinkering with those that went before. Echoes, maybe, of "deck chairs on the Titanic".

After my ten years of teaching in a comprehensive school, I have come to the conclusion that until we get rid of the overwhelming majority of independent schools, that, in reality, pay lip service to the idea of 'serving the local community' in order to justify their charitable status, nothing of any substance will ever happen in the state sector. Creating a handful of bursaries that are intended to offer a highly academic education to a few pupils who could not otherwise afford it looks good on the surface and may satisfy the Charity Commission, but, in reality, it is patronising and fails to grasp the real mettle.

If this conclusion has a pessimistic ring to it, it is because most of those who have the necessary power in our society to bring about substantial change were educated in private schools. Furthermore, they will have sent their own children to such schools (and, in many cases, the one to which they and their parents went before them).

At the very heart of the problem is the fact that all those parents who can, send their children to private schools for very obvious reasons; as do many who find it a financial struggle. These parents, by and large, are those in society who hold the best jobs, who are the most eloquent and who have the greatest political clout. So long as they can buy the best, they will rarely, if ever, speak out against the poorer standards that they have side-stepped with the help of their wallets. How long would paying parents tolerate a school designed for 900 pupils trying to educate 1,600?

There are some independent schools that deserve to remain so – special schools for the disabled/statemented child and a few specialist schools catering for a relatively small handful of students. However, for the rest, I dare to suggest that their dissolution is the only means of obtaining the political force required to bring about the change that will once again see the UK's educational system ranking as high as it ought.

The author has worked as a maths teacher in both the independent and state sectors

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own