This is not an article about the merits of private schooling. It is about considering how a child might feel inadvertently ostracised by the every day life of private schooling.
Rarely do I enjoy reading the news these days, but seeing the Government put pressure on private schools to do more to retain their charitable status pleased me. The Independent Schools Council suggested that they would take on pupils from lower-income families if the government pays £5,500 per place. While in theory private schools offering pupils from lower-income families generous bursaries is seemingly a good idea, I believe this is not necessarily true in reality.
Having moved from a state school to a private boarding school, the difference is extraordinary. Private schools have all the most desirable characteristics a school could want, such as small class sizes, ample resources, enriched academic opportunities and the incredible networking opportunities. It is impossible to feel anything but privileged to attend one of these schools. In an ideal world every child should have the opportunity to receive this kind of education, in this type of institution. There is a big difference however between everyone receiving this education for free, compared with only a handful of pupils who cannot afford the school, being given places among hundreds of people who can.
Academic lessons however are just a small fraction of everything that goes on in a school year. Here are some examples of other important things that make up a child’s school life at a private school but most likely won’t be included in the Government’s bursary:
- educational school trips- although not mandatory they’ll be all people are talking about before and after they happen. Plus you’ll feel incredibly left out if the rest of your class is going, which they almost certainly are. The trips include places like New York, Singapore and India;
- socials- throughout the year there are many black tie social events, meaning lots of new formal dresses, shoes etc;
- extra-curricular activities- it is very common for pupils to take music lessons and/or other skilled lessons to complement their academic studies; and
- sports equipment and uniform- private schools are particularly focused on sports. At my school we had sport sessions regularly timetabled into our schedules. I only played hockey for two weeks but somehow ended up buying two hockey sticks and a bag for them during this brief period. I have a large collection of school hoodies, including my boarding house hoodie, the official school one and my leavers one. While the house uniform and the leavers one may have been optional, you don’t want to be the only person without one, do you?
So while it is undeniable that private schools offer fantastic extra-curricular activities, most would probably be excluded from the tuition fee. Sports teams, school trips and social events are all important ways students make friends and integrate into a school. If someone is unable to afford to take part in these significant extras, would the social side to their schooling not be extremely limited? Is it right to give someone the opportunity to attend private school lessons but only receive certain parts of the whole experience, causing them to be segregated from the other pupils?
Another factor that might make students on a Government bursary feel ostracised is the attitudes of some of the children at the school. Being at boarding school is like living in a bubble. Nearly everyone at private school has money, and lots of it, meaning many people are incredibly spoilt with attitudes to match. The title of this blog ‘your dad works for my dad’ was a chant I heard in my first week of school, which was used to taunt the kids from the local state school during a sports fixture. Although not applicable to everyone, many pupils were not motivated to work hard at all because they knew their parents would support them financially regardless. Getting a job at daddy’s company was always an option if things didn’t go so well at school. I remember someone’s parents using the promise of a BMW as an incentive to do well in A level exams, and then still getting them the car when they didn’t meet those grades. This effortless ability to get whatever you want is quite disconcerting for anyone to witness, but particularly so for those people who come from families who have to work very hard just to make it by. A big part of schooling is making friends and this can be difficult for every child, but particularly so if your worlds are so far apart. Further, we had school 6 days a week: mon-sat. While no-one was pleased about this, it can be particularly burdensome for someone who might need to work on the weekends to help support their family financially.
Private schools open so many doors to being successful and the majority of the pupils are truly wonderful. This doesn’t negate from the fact they are incredibly privileged though. To offer a handful of places at these schools to families of lower-incomes will likely cause these pupils to be isolated, not only by the students but also incidentally by the traditions of these schools. I believe the extra money independent schools are willing to spend on giving bursaries to pupils at their schools should be given to local state schools instead to help improve their facilities. This would result in better opportunities for significantly more children. It would reinforce the ideal that educational facilities should be improved and equal for everyone, not just a small minority of the country.