Sunday, 27 January 2008

Are Private Schools Any Good?

The debate is raging about whether fee-paying schools should be charities. But nobody ever asks whether such schools are really all that good. They are prominent among the critics of the gravely deficient and defective examination system. Yet their own appeal is based on being exceptionally good within that system.

If the exams are educationally questionable, then being good at putting people through them cannot be said to prove that a school is a centre of academic excellence. If anything, it would seem to suggest the opposite. And one does have to question whether the people making these sales pitches are really very intelligent at all.

Abolishing these schools’ charitable status might close a few of them. But many more would simply jack up their fees to astronomical levels, even when compared to what they already charge. They would also abolish such scholarships and bursaries as they still have (full fees bursaries are now practically unheard of). So nothing would really be achieved.

Yet those schools are desperate to retain that status, for reasons lost on me. So they are suggesting that they might sponsor City Academies. This would involve their teachers telling their state school counterparts how to do their jobs. Again, it is simply presupposed that the private school teachers are better teachers, that their schools are better schools.

When is anyone going to take this on? Where are the articles and documentaries about private schools and their bullying? Or the highly variable quality of their teaching? Or their Head Teachers who are in fact proprietors? Or their entrance exams for five-year-olds? Or their decidedly questionable employment practices? Or the cosy relationships of a few of them with Oxbridge admissions tutors? (Although who really cares about Oxbridge, anyway?) Or the fact that the rest are selling a pup?