Why I don’t send my child to private school…

Like Janet Murray, five years ago, if someone had told me I’d have a child at private school, I’d have laughed. Laughed and laughed. And then, once I’d stopped laughing, I’d have asked them a) at what point over the next five years I’d have been getting this sudden windfall, and b) why future me wasn’t doing the predictable thing and frittering all the money on shoes.

Of course, no one ever said this and it hasn’t happened. I don’t send my child to private school. I don’t even send him to an “outstanding” state school. I send him to a school with a “good” Ofsted rating, and one which, according to the Guardian, has a broader social and cultural mix than is representative for the local area. I love my son’s school, and so does he. Therefore I am a great, non-hypocritical, right-on liberal parent and not a misguided snob like Janet Murray. Well, it’s either that or I’m just incredibly badly organised yet oddy lucky – and I suspect it’s closer to the latter.

Murray, an education journalist for the Guardian, has written an intensely annoying piece about why she sends her daughter to a private school. It includes all the usual stereotypes and substandard arguments, detailing how she once “resented parents buying privilege through private education”, but that was “before I became a parent” (because all parents who can afford it send their children to private school – except that they don’t). And there’s the usual crap about how “the state sector is full of parents buying advantage”:

They kid themselves that what they are doing is somehow morally superior. The truth is that every person who moves house to get into a catchment area is playing the system. So are those who pay private tutors, or consultants to help with school appeals (both booming businesses). Parents who suddenly discover a faith in God to get their children into a certain school are lying and cheating.

Well, I’m a middle-class parent and I haven’t done any of these things. Sometimes I think it’s because I’m a moral paragon. Other times I fear it’s because I just don’t love my children enough to do the decent thing and afford an expensive house in a posh catchment area.  Then again at other times I think it’s because an awful lot of state schools – even those that aren’t rated “outstanding” (as was the local one Murray rejected) – are alright, really.

There is in fact a state school with an “outstanding” Ofsted rating closer to my house than the school  my son attends. We never stood a hope in hell of getting him in, though. You either have to live on the doorstep in a million, trillion pound house, or pretend to be a Christian (or actually be a Christian, I suppose. But that’s so far out of the range of my personal possibilities I barely think about it). There is a school that’s even nearer to us, though. That one only opened this year and is made from a merger of two “failing” schools. I am of course relieved that my son goes to what appears to be a “better” school. I’m nevertheless aware that some children attend the “worse” school. They and their parents are people, too, and if they are not getting the opportunities that my son is, then that’s not fair. It’s not a reason to dismiss the state system and all the things that teachers and pupils achieve.

Perhaps I am lucky that my son attends a good state school. Perhaps I was lucky that I did, too. But I can’t help feeling that those who criticise all state schools in order to justify their decision to go private are dismissing not just a system or an ideology, but children and parents too. It’s a way of further reinforcing an advantage that already exists. Not only do state-educated children have to cope with larger class sizes – and most cope admirably well – but they have to deal with the slur of not having been “educated” in the right way. Yet these are the children who are mixing with a broader range of people and who are having to learn in more challenging scenarios. Who is really growing and developing the most?

Of course, there is a difference between education and privilege. Private schools specialise in the latter.* Perhaps if I were rich, I would send my son to one. Because I want him to be educated, but I also want him to be privileged. This is the real selfish parent impulse to which the likes of Janet Murray won’t admit. I don’t believe that anyone should trample over others to get what they want, but if trampling’s going to be done, I’d prefer it if my kids were the ones doing it rather than yours (soz). But obviously if this were to happen, I’d pretend it was meritocratic trampling. I’d say “oh, he’s allowed to trample because he’s sensitive and needed a special trampling environment. Plus he deserves it cos he passed a random entrance exam.”

Clearly, this is all a moot point. It’s never going to happen. I don’t send my son to private school because I can’t afford to. But in some ways I am relieved that I’ll never have to face the pressure to choose.

*I’m not suggesting people who went to private school can’t be intelligent, well-educated, mega-sexy and brilliant with puns about hats. Not thinking of anyone in particular (well, okay, my partner. And definitely not David Cameron).


15 thoughts on “Why I don’t send my child to private school…

  1. From Murray’s article: “Having escaped a coasting comprehensive for grammar school in my teens – an experience that opened my eyes to a different kind of future – I know first-hand how powerful education can be to individuals as a vehicle for social mobility.”

    This is such a telling elision between social mobility and, well, entrenched privilege! Janet: this one thing – not the same as this other thing? Christing fuck. It’s not so much the politics that offend me (although, that too) as the incredibly mealy-mouth, slippery non-defense of them. Poor, Guardian.

    This, though – “I’d say “oh, he’s allowed to trample because he’s sensitive and needed a special trampling environment” – is hilarious and dead-on. I suspect you’re actually a guardian journalist on the sly anyway, but if didn’t think that I’d say you should become one.

    1. It’s kind of a joke, but the terrible thing is, the minute I started looking around at schools, I did start thinking “oh, but my son’s special, he’s sensitive, he’s had speech problems, I want him to get special attention blah blah blah”. And I knew it was crap and I thought it anyhow! I wonder how many people do? I just didn’t have the money to do anything about it anyhow!

    1. Wait wait wait. Seriously? Dude. Lady. Whatever. Your insult doesn’t work. I’m okay with being a sex worker, hence *self-identifying as one in this context*. Calling me a whore isn’t gonna make me sad. Your poorly expressed, unoriginal misogyny does sort of make me sad, it has to be said, but only for you.

      1. I’m sorry about those idiotic comments. Have just deleted them – am sorry that that now makes it unclear what you were responding to! Anyhow, I am sorry! What a knob this person is.

  2. Luckily I am not even at the primary school but yet but there is a school round the corner from us that people move to the area to send their kids to. It’s good school. Very white. Very middle class. I want my boys to go to a school a bit further away. It’s very mixed, in class and ethnicity, and can have some challenging pupils. I want them to be well rounded individuals and that happens when you encounter every walk of life and learn to relate to every one around you. Not must those who look like you, or have the same amount of money as you. I am sure your son will thrive in his environment and can do all the trampling he wants to do there! :o)


    of life and learn to relate to all those surround you

    1. I went to a very monocultural state school (it was Cumbria – what can you do?) so I really am glad my son gets a broader, more realistic picture of the world than I did (although I hate how pinko-liberal patronising-as-hell that sounds!).

  3. I’m always torn on the whole debate (while being not remotely well-off enough to choose private, so it’s all pretty moot). Both my husband and I went to fairly terrible state comprehensives where we were pretty miserable (and I was constantly bullied for being a ‘swot’). And because of the area I grew up in (white, but not in a leafy middle class kind of way), I didn’t get much in the way of diversity to make up for it.

    A few years ago, I worked in a private school (and, alas, if I still worked there, I’d get a heck of a discount on fees). It was so brilliant. Forget the education, and the privilege – the pastoral care was just amazing. I was 22/23 at the time and really wished I’d been able to attend that myself. Not for the privilege, not for the ‘nice’ children, and not for getting into any kind of decent university. Just because I think I’d have been so much happier there.

    The thing is, for that, there are plenty of brilliant state schools and plenty of terrible private schools. I do know that, and I know that in principle I’m against private education, but I can’t help be coloured by my experiences which are pretty stark. I just hope that we can find good state schools round here (finding one which isn’t religious in this area is an issue, and a rant for another day) when the time comes.

    1. My partner actually did his teacher training in the “outstanding” school near us that we couldn’t get our son into. Knowing what goes on behind the scenes to make a school “outstanding”, he’s taking it all with a pinch of salt and prefers where our son is now. But I do find it galling to be told that a state school cannot accept my son because we don’t have a letter from the local vicar!

      1. ‘But I do find it galling to be told that a state school cannot accept my son because we don’t have a letter from the local vicar!’

        Facebook culture has its roots 🙂

  4. I am perhaps fortunate in that I haven’t read the original article which led to this blog. I am also fortunate in that if I had worked, then my husband and I would have been able to afford private education for our two children. However, following endless debate between us, we decided to go state education all the way. The reason? we wanted our children to be able to communicate with all levels of society. They have mixed with children from much better off families than ours and managed well (in clubs they have joined) and they have remained friends with children from all walks of life as they have grown.
    Perhaps they were lucky in that the secondary school they attended was pronounced Good by Ofsted (when Good was Good), but although the infant school they attended was also good, the junior school at the time was in special measures (believe me, a lot of debate about that school at the time!).
    I think it was the best decision we ever made.
    I could have worked full time to pay school fees, we opted for me to stay at home and work part time to support the family.
    Our boys are now well rounded individuals who can and do communicate well with many different types of people. I am proud of what they have achieved, academically, they both went on to college and did A levels and they have both gone to University, amazing to me, as neither my husband or I went.
    This is down to the education they have received and the fact that THEY were willing to WORK at their education.

  5. Private education is cheaper than an expensive house in a posh catchment area, you don’t send your children to private schools because you can’t afford it. You love what you have to love, because you lack other option. That’s allright.

    I have impression that some people who themselves attended state schools and now are sending their children to private schools to ‘gain privilege’ are the same people who abuse their colleagues calling them in a derogatory manner state-school-attendees. Relaxed and breezy confidence, loose manner, intangible sense of entitlement are not effects of privilege of attending school with the richer/wealthier, the difference is in lack of any kind of abuse around the child. Child’s environment must lack abuse and must be inspiring to educational process be effective (the very same rules apply to work environment later on). Poorly skilled teachers will not find jobs in private schools, they will unfortunately find jobs in state schools. I remember an article from several years back about a prostitute who after making money so she could buy a flat, transformed herself into a teacher. I’m sorry, I wouldn’t want her to teach my kids, not even economy. ‘Turn your talent to teaching’.

  6. one of my favourite comments I read on the Janet turner article –

    “Based on my own (albeit limited) experience of teaching in both state and private schools. I can safely say that the only advantage of the latter was to see the overpaid and under-taxed pi**ing away their money on something they could have got for free if it weren’t for their pathological fear of their offspring having to mix with the lower orders. Of course the state sector has its problems, but they certainly don’t have the monopoly on poor teaching.”

  7. My other ‘alf works in an ‘Outstanding’ academy locally and the rating is not worth the bit of paper it’s written on. No details as his income currently pays our bills, but we won’t be sending our kids there that’s for sure.

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