Should we abolish private schools?

A disproportionate number of people who occupy the top jobs across the UK – from the prime minister and leading politicians to judges and entertainers – were privately educated. Campaigners who think this situation has gone on too long are asking why we have private schools and whether it is time to get rid of them. Maya Goodfellow explores the case for abolition
Britain’s private school problem: it’s time to talk

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– The thing that is most distorting
our education system is
the existence of private schools.
– State school graduates are
still likely to earn thousands
of pounds less than those
who are privately educated.
– What we’re seeing is
entrenched privilege.
– Why would the people at the top,
why are they ever going to want
people like you or I taking the
jobs that they want to go
to their privately educated
sons and daughters.
– We will have an apartheid
education system in this country
unless we do something drastic.
– There’s an endless stream of
evidence that private schools
help make our country unequal.
Only 7% of the UK are
privately educated but
a disproportionate number occupies
some of the most influential jobs
whether in media, art, law or politics.
I mean, take our new prime minister,
the 20th to be educated
at one school: Eton.
But now a number of people
asking if this is fair
and if they should exist at all.
– As a state school teacher
why would I not want
the absolute best for the
young people in front of me.
Why don’t they deserve to have
small class sizes, luxurious facilities,
access to this incredible network
of alumni and I think that
would make our society much
better much fairer
and abolishing private schools
is key to that.
– But before getting to abolition,
we need to know what private
schools are and how they work.
– Well the origins of Britain’s private
schools date back into
the medieval period, the late
medieval period with a series
of charitable bequests to educate
the children of poor
and rising middle class families.
So they started out as charities…
– But gradually they expanded
in the victorian era when they
became increasingly for the middle classes
and they cost money.
This trend continued into
the 20th century.
And to avoid being labelled elitist,
in the 1960s they rebranded
as independent schools.
Fast forward to now and how
inclusive are they?
– So that’s six thousand pupils
paying no fees at all
out of the half million pupils in
independent school council schools.
– Turns out that means only
one percent of people
who go to private school are from
the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
For most people can’t afford to go private,
rising school fees now amount to
50% of an average earner’s wage,
which is why intakes are
dominated by the very wealthy.
So while funding has been cut
to the point that state schools
are having to use crowd funding
and Amazon wishlists
to pay for basics, a tiny proportion
of people get access to
the excellent support and almost
unlimited resources
that the private sector offers.
Plus private schools act as a
direct route to prestigious universities
and networks to some of the
world’s most powerful people.
But discussing what to do about
private schools isn’t about attacking
the choices that parents make.
It’s about an elite system that
fast track certain children.
So what can we do about this?
Broadly there’s a few options.
We could do nothing, which means
there’s no point watching this video.
We could reform the system
to try and make fairer.
Or we could get rid of fee-paying
schools altogether.
Let’s look at reform first.
And the main point here is that
although they mostly educate
the well-off, over half of all private
schools still operate as charities today.
– Eton: has there ever been
a more deserving charity?
[laughter] Many private schools say they
earn their charitable status
by offering fee reductions,
free places in the form of bursaries.
So a simple measure could be
to demand that they offer more.
But that would still be a limited
number of people
and these bursaries are often
used to top up fees of people
who are already pretty wealthy.
We even found one school
willing to offer financial help
to families so long as they
earn less than £120,000.
Also, as charities private schools
don’t pay full business rates.
So getting them to pay the full
whack which is something
state schools already have to do
could bring an extra £105 million per year.
Another idea could be to charge
VAT on private school fees
since they’re currently exempt.
That could bring in an extra
£1.5 billion to the Treasury.
Or you could just strip them
of their charitable status entirely.
But what about something
even bigger like abolition?
[dramatic music] Look, let’s not get too dramatic
here because the idea of abolition
isn’t about destruction.
It’s about unifying and integrating
our education system.
That’s what they did in Finland.
Their education system used
to be a mix of private, grammar
and state schools, not so
different from ours.
But in the 1970s, the government
decided to abolish private schools.
It was actually the Finnish political
establishment who decided
that their segregated system was
actually causing too much divisiveness.
That they needed to establish
a common school.
We don’t see education as an
industry, we see education
as a basic human right for everybody.
That’s why all education is
free in Finland.
It’s against the law to run a
private school or private university.
– With one of the most equal education
systems in the world.
Finland is an example of what
could be possible.
The neighbourhood school is
the best school because
all the schools in Finland,
they are all equal.
– And what that means is that
by making the rich kids
go to school with everyone else,
they grow up with those
other kids as friends.
And when they become wealthy adults,
they have to think twice
before they screw them over.
– Critics say abolition takes away
a parent’s right to choose.
But does everyone get to
make that choice?
What we have now is a parentocracy,
which is where educational success
depends on the wealth and
wishes of parents rather than
the ability and effort of actual children.
Choices are underpinned by resources.
And if you’re poor and disadvantaged
you just don’t have very many choices.
– None of this is going to happen
overnight and there’s no magic bullet.
Abolition is just one part of
a much broader change
that’s needed, from funding
our schools properly,
to getting rid of all forms
of selection.
But one thing is pretty clear.
If private schools stay as they are,
then nothing is going to change.
Thank you for watching this video.
We want to hear what you
think about private schools.
So leave us a comment below
and take part in our poll,
which you should see somewhere
above me over here.
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