I know the real reason why some object to private schools

14th September 2012 at 01:00
Their independence from state control is the cause of widespread corrosive envy

There are thousands of unemployed teachers looking for jobs, there are leaking roofs, shortages of equipment, rationing of music tuition and so on, but see these private schools - if only we could end their charitable status. Or so the argument goes.

This is the politics of envy bred from the dictum that if I can't have it, nobody else should. I went to the local state schools, as did my children, but I have never felt envious of others who had something we did not. Such envy is corrosive and divisive and must be challenged.

The latest line of attack is to complain that members of Britain's armed forces, are receiving assistance worth up to pound;6,074 per term for boarding schools while serving abroad, so long as they pay at least 10 per cent of the fee; this brought in some pound;3.44 million to Scottish independent schools as well as the other "subsidy" of about pound;3 million per year from rates relief.

The idea is that if only these subsidies could be removed, then independent schools would become too expensive and close down. It is wishful thinking at best.

Yes, fees would in most cases have to increase, and yes some schools would struggle to survive - but wipe them out? More likely is that there would be fewer independent schools but they would operate on an exclusively commercial basis and would become more elite. Unless legislation is introduced to ban the purchase of education from any provider other than the state (including private tuition?), independent schooling will always exist.

Those who would wish the end of private schooling really should be more honest about how they would cater for the 30,000 pupils who would suddenly have to be accommodated in the state sector. The average cost of educating a pupil in Scotland is pound;7,243 a year, which suggests that to teach these students in the state sector would require a further pound;217 million.

It can be argued that there is some spare capacity but such capacity is not necessarily where it would be needed. With 6,088 secondary-level pupils, some 24.1 per cent, at independent schools in Edinburgh, the city council would need to find an extra pound;44 million every year and build at least three new schools at huge capital cost.

Rather than be envious of the pound;3 million rates "subsidy" that helps save the taxpayer pound;217 million, we should allow state schools to obtain charitable status and keep the savings from the rates relief. Of course that would mean establishing a trust with trustees and giving schools a degree of independence from their council masters - which is where the problems begin, for the real objection opponents have is not that schools are private, it is that they are independent of state control. Which is why, I suggest, they be defended.

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