The shitty thing about education choices

Thirty years ago when I started primary school, the issue of schooling was very easy; the majority of us just went to whichever primary school was closest to our home, and there we stayed until it was time for secondary school, and yes, that was also the secondary school closest to where we lived.

Only the wealthy and the privileged attended private schools and they were few and far between and most were very well known, having an extensively exclusive alumni ranging from Royalty to politicians.

In recent times all has changed with regard to private schooling. Now, it is not uncommon for parents to send their child to a private school. Once only the stomping ground of the upper classes, private education is now well within the realms of most middle class parents who perceive it as the best choice for their child.

In some areas, private schools are ten a penny. Okay, so that is possibly a slight exaggeration, but in the area of West London where I live, if private education is for you, then you a spoiled for choice.

The cost of private education, while still high, is not as astronomical as it once was. The more prestigious schools still charge a huge amount for pupils; for example, some of the more exclusive private secondary schools will set you back around 25k a year for tuition alone; school uniform, equipment and annual educational and residential trips can easily cost up to10k per school year.

The biggest pull for parents is the smaller class sixes in private schools. A state school may have thirty (or more) children to a class, whereas private primary and secondary schools can have as few as six children receiving the undivided attention of a teacher and two teaching assistants. If you have the kind of child who struggles with Math’s, English or any other subject, this can be the biggest pull for choosing private education.

There is the socioeconomic angle to think about to. Now that private education is more affordable and not just available to the upper classes, privately educating your children can be an aspirational choice for some parents. I know of many, who have sent their child to private school when the state school in their catchment area actually outperforms its private counterparts in the area. In some cases, private schooling seems to be another tick on the to-do list, along with a 4×4 car and two exotic holidays per year; it seems more of a lifestyle choice for the parent rather than what is best for the child. With the classes blurring, there are some parents with social aspirations who see sending their children to private school as a ticket to the more affluent social circles in their area.

For this and many other reasons, some private schools are so in demand that you have children being coached for entrance in interviews at 3 and a half years old. At three and a half, my sons favorite pastimes included running round with a bucket on his head singing the Bob the Builder theme tune at the top of his lungs and throwing world class tantrums when offered fruit. I often wondered how he would have faired at an interview for a private school. My feeling is, the answer would have been ‘no thank you’.

At the age of three a child won’t care what the world thinks of them, but how do the parents of the child deemed not of a high enough standard for the school feel? From hearing about the sort of children private schools desire (well behaved, for the most part) I know my son would have been turned away. I am fine with that, as I am all for young children being able to act their age and not act according to the wants of adults, but how about the parents who were all set on private education?

The one thing that stands out for me is when a goof friend of mine was set on her daughter attending one of Norfolk’s most well respected private schools. He daughter has been attending a nursery who were well known for preparing children for this school and the selection process since she was a year old. When the day for the interviews came round, my friend was a nervous wreck. She and her husband had prepared themselves by learning everything about the school, it’s history, ethos and teaching staff. They had even bought carefully selected designer clothes for the occasion (not to formal, but not too catwalk – they looked like Wills and Kate). That’s what struck me as madness and as I told my friend “this is insane! YOU are paying THEM!”

As it turns out, her daughter got her place and is still at the school, ten years later doing well and having a great time. But here’s the crux: my son is doing just as well, if not better in the subjects that he naturally has an inclination for, having worked his way through a state primary and two years so far of state secondary. I don’t feel that he has missed out. While my friend’s daughter has certainly had far more opportunities to pursue more interesting musical instruments and sports (think fencing and saxophone verses the recorder and football), academically and socially, they are on par.

Whatever choice we make about schooling, it should be a personal choice centered around out children and balanced between our views on what we think is best for them and the type of child they are. But one thing is for sure – grow a thick skin because the rest of the world will let its opinion be known.

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