Moi, worry about school choice? Bof

2nd May 2014 at 01:00
French parents least daunted by educational decisions, poll shows

Parents around the world are known to worry excessively about choosing the right education for their children. Go private? Move into the catchment area of a good state school? Go to church and get them into a faith school? The questions abound.

But it seems that in France, the country that coined the phrase laissez-faire and perfected the Gallic shrug, parents are remarkably untroubled by educational decision-making.

A new survey of parents in 15 countries suggests that the French are the least likely to fret about making the right choices for their children, with only 17 per cent saying they are daunted by the prospect. The worldwide average is 38 per cent. And pity the parents of Taiwan, where 69 per cent are overwhelmed by the choices available to them.

French parents are also among the most reluctant to pay for education, and the least likely to plan ahead for both secondary and university-level education.

Experts have suggested that despite recent complaints in the press about falling standards, the figures reflect French confidence in their highly centralised, secular education system, which provides free education from the age of 3 to university. Meanwhile, parents in England, the US and elsewhere are faced with an array of choices, from charter schools and academies to church schools and private institutions.

Janette Wallis, senior editor of The Good Schools Guide, said: "There is less school choice in France so the options are less daunting, but less choice has developed there because of the strong degree of confidence they have in their system."

In English-speaking countries, a lack of faith in the state system had led to a profusion of alternatives, she added. "The majority of parents just want a good local school, but they feel compelled to look further and scour the options. I try to simplify it, telling them that unless there is something really wrong with their local school, they should look no further than that."

The survey, which questioned 4,592 parents in 15 countries, also exposes discrepancies in attitudes among parents about the purpose and priorities of education. The Ipsos report, commissioned by HSBC bank, reveals that Asian parents tend to say that the priority of primary school is to instil self-discipline, while parents in Western countries prioritise "happiness".

The study also looks at parents' readiness to pay for their child's education. On average, 58 per cent of parents say that paying for education is the best investment you can make, but the proportion of people agreeing with this statement varies from 35 per cent in the UK to 77 per cent in China. "Support for private education is strongest in the developing world and in Asia, where aspirations are strong and the belief in education as a means of social mobility is deep-rooted," the report says.

The figures go some way towards explaining news that UK private schools have now set up 39 campuses abroad, mostly in Asia, to cash in on this enthusiasm.

The study also reveals attitudes towards different education systems: the US is the most highly regarded by parents around the world, followed by the UK, Germany, Australia and Japan.

In Singapore, 75 per cent believe their education system is better than elsewhere. Perhaps surprisingly, given their apparent confidence in their system, only 9 per cent of the French think they have the best schools in the world.

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