The Big Debate is a regular Badgerfeature which brings the spirit of competitive debating to the printed page. Two writers tackle a contentious topic, representing polarised views. They might not agree with what they write – on this page, they represent a viewpoint, not an individual. This week, they discuss whether private schools should be abolished.

YES

By Will Day – Staff Writer

“I want Britain to be a place where advantage is based on merit not privilege” – Inspiring yet utterly hollow words from Theresa May in her 2016 speech “Britain, the great meritocracy”. I’d love to have seen the briefing for this speech. “Right Theresa, I know we’re doing nothing to act on what you’re about to say but I promise if you stare into the camera, they will believe you” (See the hypnotoad from Futurama).

A society based on meritocracy would mean that it is solely hard work and ability that brings success (social class bares no advantage) I expect that those who believe that Britain is a Meritocracy also believe in the tooth fairy. Yes, I know Alan Sugar and Susan Boyle did it but let’s not pretend it’s the norm. For every SuBo there are thousands who can’t achieve their goals, stuck in a failing education system which is so desperately underfunded that many schools can’t afford to teach for a full five days. We live in a nation where the privileged have always had a clear advantage. To truly level the playing field, we must begin by making fundamental changes to our education system.

One in sixteen pupils attend private school where they receive a vastly superior education to those in state education. One in seven teachers are employed at private schools, meaning private school pupils receive twice as much access to support. One in six pounds of all school expenditure nation-wide is invested in private schools by rich parents for this small section of elite youth. So, what makes these pupils so deserving of their educational superiority? Are they born with a staggeringly high IQ? No. Can they move objects with their minds? No. What then, you cry? A stench of privilege passed down from rich parents. Or more likely rich grandparents whose privately educated children have become rich parents, more likely still rich great-grandparents whose privately edu– you get my point.

Just 7% of the country are privately educated yet it seems like so many more. That’s because positions of power and wealth there is a staggering overrepresentation of the privately educated. The Sutton Trusts report “Elitist Britain 2019” highlights the dominance of those who attended independent schools in positions of influence. The report notes that “65% of senior judges, 57% of members of the House of Lords, 59% of civil service
permanent secretaries and 52% of Foreign Office diplomats come from a private school background.”

As of Boris Johnson’s latest reshuffle, which he boasted would “truly reflect modern Britain”, 65% of all Cabinet Ministers attended an independent school. In the media the trend continues: 43% of the top one hundred influential news editors and broadcasters and 44% of newspaper columnists received a private education. Any failing actors reading this, don’t feel down about the constant rejection. Remember it’s not your fault; it’s your parents. Had they been rich enough to send you to Eton you’d probably have an Oscar by now; Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston, Eddie
Redmayne, Damian Lewis, just a few who have attended the college.

This overrepresentation makes the notion that Britain is a meritocracy laughable. Clearly Britain’s capitalist system favours those born into privilege. It’s time to make hard work and application the measures of success, not the size of your parent’s wallet. I’m not trying to imply that all those who attend fee-paying schools don’t apply themselves, of course they do, yet studies from the University of Cambridge show students with the same A-level results from state schools perform better at university
than their privately educated peers.

A top private education provides more than just grades, you gain a sense of entitlement, a mind-set that you are better than the rest, you are the right candidate. Besides, there’s always the CEO position at Daddy’s company if things go tits up.

To see the benefits of abolishing private education we need look no further than Finland. Finish officials acknowledged that their education system was perpetuating inequality and recognized the detrimental impact it was having on their nation. In the 1970’s the Finnish government made radical changes to their education system which saw the abolishment of private schooling. Today, the Finnish education system is widely regarded as one of the world’s best.

Not all those privately educated are bad people, most of them are perfectly palatable, some of them might even acknowledge their own privilege. Yet, these institutions do have a tendency to churn out an exceptional volume of megalomaniac narcissists. The kind of narcissist who goes on Question
Time attacking diversity in a shameless attempt to stay relevant as their singing and acting careers fail (Laurence Fox). The kind of narcissist so desperate to cling onto power they call a referendum they can’t possibly lose (David Cameron). The kind of narcissist who oversees a campaign of hate, xenophobia and lies before fulfilling a lifelong ambition of becoming Prime Minister (the idiot in charge of our country in 2020).

NO

By Bogdan Gherasim

We have come to live in a society where so-called ‘equality’ has become a reason to evade our destiny. Ideas of an ‘equal society’ means that if someone has the privilege to have a better education, to a broader range of opportunities, to a better job, then that means inequality, discrimination, and even injustice. Nowadays, the concept of ‘equality’ has become so exaggerated that it seeks to camouflage the fact that all human beings are unique, everyone has different values, strengths, background and purposes. Thus, we must have the chance to choose what is best for each of us.

The debate as to whether private schools are ethical has become increasingly intense in the last decades, even though private education is extremely important in society. For instance, in the United States, 25 percent of the nation’s schools are private with approximately 10 percent of all students attending them. Likewise, in Germany, the percentage of parents who opted for private education in 2016 exceeded 9 per cent.

State schools were created to educate the masses, in a raw fashion. The need for better education and the emergence of different specializations led to the foundation of further private schools. This occurred in democratic, modern nations in order to develop society and to provide a broader range of possibilities. Since then, the private school is positioned as being of better quality than the public option, an improvement to the quality of education for the nation.

Everywhere in the world, private schools produce intellectuals, scholars, leaders and so forth. But because a society cannot be made up of only intellectuals, high-quality education has always been made very expensive and much harder to reach. And anyway, handicrafts and trades are also fundamental to society.

Many private school systems offer a unique alternative as non-traditional pedagogies, such as the Waldorf Pedagogy, Montessori, or Step-by-Step. These schools provide a broader perspective of life. The children, who are raised in such pedagogies, learn various disciplines in a more nuanced form than in the public systems.

Being Waldorf-raised myself, I can acknowledge the importance of such alternative private school systems for the development of the individual and for the society as a whole. The teachers emphasize the importance of intellect, as well as the spirit and soul. The development of every component of a human being is essential for his fulfillment and for a harmonious relation with all that surrounds his being. Unfortunately, this unique perspective of educating a human being does not exist in the public system and therefore this discrepancy, in my opinion, is noticeable in pupils.

But this is the purpose anyway… It is perfectly natural to have different approaches to education for different types of people. So, what if you cannot afford a private education for your child? Everything happens for a reason, and everyone has their path to follow. Instead of struggling to afford a private school, think if this is really the best option for your child. A diploma doesn’t show your true values, but your hard work and perseverance do.

My argument is that, why would we want to live in communism, where there is no private school system at all? Perhaps, that would be a great place for those who fight for absolute ‘equality’ and think that they are treated unfairly by society because they have to work harder to achieve what others have by destiny. But just because some people cannot afford or benefit from something doesn’t make it wrong. There should be different kinds of opportunities for different types of people. Some families have more benefits than others, some have to work harder to achieve success, and that is how it has always been from the beginnings of humanity.

I heard that if you want to become a lawyer, a doctor or a political figure, and you don’t have the opportunity to attend a high-quality private school, then you are doomed to fail. This is, in my opinion, the excuse of lazy people, which are better at making judgments than at working towards their dreams. As Dale Carnegie said, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all”.

It doesn’t matter at all what your background is, it matters what you actually do to reach your dream. Stop complaining that you were not born into a family that cannot afford private schooling, and instead, think about what kind of education you will be able to provide your own children and start working on that.

Not all of us should be able to afford a private education, because not all of us have the same path to follow. We are not equal, we are different and different alternatives should exist for each of us.

Image credit: Unknown – found at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eton_XI_in_1866.jpg

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Should private schools be abolished?

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