Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


It’s hard to believe this is not a cynical ploy:

The wealthiest parents should have to pay the same fees to send their children to a top state school as they would to an independent school, a leading headteacher has proposed.

Independent schools should also offer a quarter of their places to children from the poorest of backgrounds, according to Anthony Seldon, the master at Wellington College.

In a report published by the Social Market Foundation (SMF), Seldon calls for a radical wave of reforms to end the divide between state and independent schools, enhance social mobility and offer young people a more rounded education.

Maybe he’s just trying to “bring new money into the state system, as well as incentivise state schools to perform better”, as he says, while being too naive to understand the consequences. Seems unlikely. He also says his plans would “reduce the domination of places at the top state schools by the children of well-off parents”. Indeed it would, since children of well-off parents would be almost completely absent from state schools.

If you think the well-off aren’t paying enough for education, why not just raise their income taxes? Why specifically penalise them for sending their children to state schools? There is already a prejudice — often unfounded — that private schools provide superior education. Forcing out the upper classes — and that’s clearly what would happen, if they were to be charged the same fees for a school that is less exclusive, and thus apparently inferior. The only ones who would benefit would be the independent schools, which would no longer need to compete with the state sector on price. How convenient!

If you want to know what the benefits really are of British independent schools, a colleague made it clear to me a while back, when he said he sends his children to private school so that they learn “self confidence”. I was reminded of this recently when someone spoke to me about having heard about research about “perceived fair wages”. “Someone who’s earning £30,000 a year isn’t going to apply for a job with a £60,000 salary. He knows it’s out of his league, that he doesn’t have the skills for that.” Now, I’ve encountered this notion of “perceived fair wages” in the  analysis of wage inequality: in particular, that women often are paid less because they are conditioned to expect lower wages. (For example here.) But this fellow thought it was simply a matter of everyone having a good sense of their proper place.

So how do you get to be a self confident banker who refuses to roll over and let The Man cut his multi-million pound bonus? Presumably, that’s the job of the independent schools.

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