'Reverse snobbery' sparks rise of new state troopers
The "reverse snobbery" of middle-class parents choosing top comprehensives and grammars over private education could be behind a boom in state institutions featured in a leading guide to the best schools, say its editors.
This year's Good Schools Guide, which was launched 25 years ago as a handbook to help find good independent schools for well-to-do parents, now features some 260 state schools among 1,000 entries, from comprehensives and academies to old-fashioned grammars.
In its first edition, only 13 schools - or 5 per cent of those featured - were from the state sector.
The guide's editors say parents no longer "automatically gravitate" towards private schools because of financial concerns and worries that private education could jeopardise their child's university prospects.
Wealthy parents are also losing faith in the "old school tie" network as a means of getting on in life, attaching more importance to relationships forged at university, they said.
Mossbourne Academy - the high-achieving flagship city academy in Hackney, east London, lauded by Labour and Conservative politicians alike - is in the guide for the first time this year, with editors noting: "(There are) a fair number of clued-up, middle-class parents - the kind who used to go private or bus their children out of the borough - who fight from a great distance to get their children the superb education the school offers."
The much-feted comprehensive Robert Clack School in Dagenham, east London, is also a debutant in the guide, with reviewers celebrating its "iron discipline" and ability to teach a wide range of abilities in a deprived area.
Headteacher Sir Paul Grant told The TES: "I shouldn't think there are many comprehensives on council estates in the guide. It is very, very tough to get in. Their editors approached us - we didn't market ourselves. It will be heartening for people in our community for us to get this national recognition."
Janette Wallis, a senior editor of the guide, said: "Twenty-five years ago, there were a lot of people who felt their parents had sacrificed to educate them privately and that they were duty bound to do the same for their children. But fewer parents feel like this today.
"Until a few years ago, most parents contacting our admissions advice service were interested in private schools. Now, around half of them are asking about state schools.
"There could be reverse snobbery going on, with some parents thinking it is cleverer to aim for top comprehensives or grammars."
The guide, which was started by two Harpers and Queen magazine journalists in 1986, is compiled through reports from local editors, parental recommendations, exams results and Ofsted reports.
But the Campaign for State Education said the boom in state schools in the book did not indicate any particular improvement in state schools, or any great shift in attitudes. The reason, it said, was an increasing ability for schools of all kinds to market themselves.
Spokesman Michael Pyke said: "The proportion of children going to private schools has remained virtually the same since the 1970s. Clearly there hasn't really been a shift. Parents have become more savvy at promoting their children's school than in the past. It's a meaningless document.
"Once you start something like a good schools guide, any active PTA will try to get their school into it. We have been following a marketisation agenda and it follows that schools who want to attract the 'right' kind of pupils will operate in this area."
THREE OF THE BEST
Comments on state schools new to the Good Schools Guide:
Mossbourne Academy, Hackney, east London - "Money is not a problem at this well-resourced school. Everything from the buildings to the technology is of the highest standard and whatever the head wants to get done he has the means to achieve."
Coloma Convent Girls' School, Croydon - "Considering it operates on a budget less than 40 per cent of an independent school, must also be commended for economic genius.
"Pupils become very proactive in creating new ideas and opportunities to fundraise. Christmas fete has included an ice rink."
- Robert Clack School (comprehensive), Barking and Dagenham, east London
"This is one of the smartest and most ordered schools we have ever visited.
"Children are immaculate in blazers and ties, orderly in corridors and attentive in lessons.
"The school works on a combination of iron discipline and plenty of praise."