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

Share
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

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

Defendant Personal Injury 2+PQE

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - NICHE DEFENDANT FIRM - Defendant Pe...

Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

£475 - £550 per day: Progressive Recruitment: MDAX / Dynamics AX / Microsoft D...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Fist bumps will never replace the handshake - we're just not cool enough

Jessica Brown Jessica Brown
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on