How parents pick and switch between sectors

19th February 2010 at 00:00
They treat education 'like a box of chocolates', dipping in and out of different types of provision

Middle-class parents are increasingly choosing to "swing" between private and state sectors when selecting schools for their children, treating the education system like a "box of chocolates", figures suggest.

Around 60 per cent of people calling the Good Schools Guide advice line say they are hoping to "dip in and out" of the state and private sectors throughout their child's education.

This surge in parents planning to "sector switch" as their child's schooling progresses is thought to be due to the improved image of some state schools coupled with the recession, which is making fees unaffordable for many.

Some have also expressed concerns that privately educated pupils are increasingly facing discrimination when applying for places at Oxbridge.

The phenomenon has been highlighted just months after a report highlighted a "mass exodus" of teachers from the state sector to private schools.

Academics at the Centre for Economic Performance, based at the London School of Economics, said the flow of teachers from state to independent schools had increased from 400 in 1993 to 1,600 last year.

At The Queen's Church of England Primary School, a maintained school in Richmond, Surrey, up to 50 per cent of pupils go on to private schools.

But at Godalming Sixth Form College, also state-funded, "well over a third" join from independent schools.

These examples support the claim by the Independent Schools Council that 14 per cent of the population have received private education at some point in their lives, rather than the commonly quoted 7 per cent.

Sue Fieldman, regional editor of The Good Schools Guide, said: "This year people are keeping their options open.

"So many are calling in and not asking for state or private, but saying, 'Can we have both?'

"They are increasingly treating the education system like a box of chocolates, picking out the hard ones and leaving the soft centres.

"The different sectors are no longer regarded as being 'for life'. There's much more acceptance now that private schools are not for toffs and nobs.

"But parents with pupils in small independent schools are realising that the sixth form colleges can provide a lot more choice of courses at A-level."

But she stressed that many state-educated primary pupils often had their education supplemented by private tutoring before swapping to the private sector.

The phenomenon can prove interesting for teachers, some of whom seem to appreciate the private school input.

Fiona Long, an English teacher at a comprehensive school in the Oxfordshire which has a high intake of independently educated pupils in its sixth-form, said: "Sometimes it is difficult to tell who has come to us from a private school as the standard can be similar.

"At other times it is really obvious; they can be streets ahead.

"But that can actually raise the other pupils' game in the classroom, and the additional input can make class discussions more interesting."

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