The more politicians criticise private schools for being elitist, the worse the problem will become, a leading figure in the independent sector has claimed.
Constant “knocking” of the private sector for its exclusivity makes it harder to convince "ordinary people" that it will be suitable for their children, according to David Hanson, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS).
The UK is in a “ridiculous cycle” of celebrating the success of its independent schools, then telling the sector to “hang our heads in shame”, he writes on a blog for the Independent Schools Council ahead of IAPS' annual conference next week.
Mr Hanson writes: “I am making a counter-intuitive proposition. The more we knock the private sector for being elite, the more elite it will become by convincing ordinary people that they cannot aspire to benefit from it.
“We must stop knocking the supposed elitism of the private sector and actively seek out and take opportunities to grow it and give more children a world-class education.
“If we do this, if we keep pushing to make private schools as accessible to as many children as possible, we will not only help relieve some of the burden of financing state education infrastructure, but we also have a chance of breaking this ridiculous cycle of celebrating our success before being told we should hang our heads in shame.”
He claims that every time private education is discussed on a public forum, it is “made into a controversial topic with the associated heightening of emotions”, with calls, from some, for the schools to be abolished.
“This is saddening,” he writes. “We need to focus parents’ minds on getting a part of it for themselves and for their children.”
Governments should be doing more to make private schools accessible to people from all walks of life by providing things such as tax relief on school fees, Mr Hanson told TES in a separate interview.
He also said the government was happy to employ private firms to deliver public services, and the same should be true of paying private schools to provide education. The government could offer per-pupil funding at the normal rate for a state-educated child, plus the pupil premium, and the school could make up the shortfall through bursaries, he added.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of Ofsted, criticised the private sector last year, saying it was only offering “crumbs off the table” through its partnerships with state schools.
Social mobility charity the Sutton Trust is calling for the government to fund its Open Access scheme, which it says aims to “democratise” access to private schools. Under the scheme, parents would pay fees on a sliding scale, depending on their means. The idea is backed by more than half the country’s leading independent schools, the charity says.