Saturday, May 26, 2007

Private Public Partnership

A poll on Sky News this morning suggests that viewers are overwhelmingly against the idea that private schools should lend their resources to neighbouring state schools.

Reported in most of the broadsheet newspapers, Labour's Alan Johnson said he wants private schools to take pupils on secondment from local state schools, open their science labs to comprehensives and offer many more bursaries to poor families.

“Private schools need to do more to earn their charitable status,” he says.

“It’s not enough just to lend their playing fields, it’s about the science lab, it’s about teachers - there are excellent Maths teachers in private schools.

"Let them give a bit of their expertise to the state sector.”

Ed: Other than the really big, well-known private schools like Eton, I don't know of any, which aren't struggling financially and I do know many parents that are struggling to keep their children in private education because of rising school fees.

Now it strikes me that if one part of society wishes to pay for their childrens' private education after tax and by going without luxuries that others take for granted, then the resource should be used for what it has been paid for by the group involved. Wouldn't the same argument apply at a golf club or even a restaurant, suggesting perhaps that the chef be lent to the cafe down the road to improve the menu there?

That may sound flippant but isn't the comment: "Let them give a bit of their expertise to the state sector.” equally flippant, implying an overworked, individual teacher's duty in an area where the state has clearly failed.

Where does this stop and would it make any difference to the decline in our education system which is costing the taxayer billions and is not "fit for purpose" when its end results are contrasted with other nations.

What do you think?


Doctor Doom said...

Surely, Simon, the point is that these schools have charity status. If they were being openly run as a business like a restaurant then that would be a different matter. But what kind of charity only gives back to those who give?

Which is not in any way to lend support to Labour's latest pernicious cost-cutting scheme.

If private schools have better maths teachers than state schools as Alan Johnson suggests, then that surely is down to the Ministry of Education for failing to train and pay to have good quality teachers in the state sector.

As you rightly say, Simon, the state education system is not fit for purpose. And sadly neither party seem to have any real idea of how to address that problem.

But at least part of the solution lays with the issue of social responsibility that has been a common theme in recent postings.

I somehow suspect these private schools, privileged in resources though they may be, actually achieve far better results for one key reason: they are not fighting against a vociferous minority of ill-mannered, disruptive pupils backed by ill-mannered disruptive parents who persistently disrupt schooling for everyone else.

You invited comparison with schools internationally: I frequently teach in Africa and Asia. Classes of fifty or more are standard, and 200 not uncommon. In the poorer regions one exercise book per term is the norm, and a single text book between an entire class quite typical. Interactive whiteboards, computers and science labs remain pipe-dreams for teachers in these schools, where electricity and running water are considered luxuries.

Last year I took some of my state-school A-Level maths students out to visit some of these schools in West Africa. These 17-18 year olds, predicted top grades here, were somewhat embarrassed to find fourteen year olds in ill-equipped schools in some of the world’s poorest countries, quietly and efficiently handling maths problems they, with three years more education in the fourth richest country in the world, were regularly struggling with.

But what struck them far more than the teaching standards was the culture of respect between teachers and pupils that made such achievements possible.

On one occasion I took them to a lower basic (primary) school and led them outside a classroom. I let them look through the windows first, to admire the sixty odd ten year olds sitting attentively listening to their teacher. Then I led them to the entrance to meet the unseen teacher.

Imagine their reaction when they found the teacher was a fellow ten year old pupil, standing on a chair to reach the blackboard (an area of wall painted black) with his chalk. The regular teacher had been take ill and was expected to be off for the week, so the children took turns, half hour a time, to try follow the absent teacher’s only text book and ensure the teacher’s trust in them was justified.

Imagine that happening here...

Anonymous said...

We send our son to a private school. We don't earn much more than others we know but we can see the differences in the way we spend our income.
We don't have a conservatory, new kitchen, new car, SkyTV, wide screen TV, Playstation3, MP3 players, designer clothes, holidays abroad, nor do we smoke or drink.
Boring at the moment but worth it in the long run as our son is our priority when it comes to our spending choices.
Others may have different priorities and that is their right. But why should our son have to lose a teacher so that their kids can have their cake and eat it.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe in Private Education.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11.56

Nor in an ideal world would I.
However the fact remains that for certain children private education is beneficial as the state funded system is lacking, either because the child is exceptionally gifted or the opposite.
The parents pay privately, often at the cost of losing other spending opportunities like new cars or holidays. Those same parents also pay the same taxes as the rest of us who send their kids to state funded schools, although they don't benefit from the education provided by those taxes.
I think its up to them how they spend their money and not for us to criticise them for it.
I was lucky, I was an averagely bright pupil and did quite well at a state grammar school.
But then you probably don't like grammar schools either.

DrMoores said...

Well said Dr Doom but charitable status at least relieves them of the worst excesses of taxation when most struggle to make ends meet and hardly fit the description of a business.

A colleague of my is an Oxbridge professor, He told me recently that the great majority of state schools are simply not providing applicants up to the standards that his university expects from potential students, in terms of the provision of bascis numeracy and literacy skills. He despairs for the next generation and the future of education in this country.

Doctor Doom said...

Tragically, Simon, the observations of your colleague regarding university entrants' standards is nothing new.

This from a report in 2003:

"There is general agreement about the lack of mathematical preparedness in new entrants to university, both for 'numerate' and 'non-numerate' degrees. In particular, grade C at GCSE, the normal minimum entry level for non-numerate degrees, gives little guarantee of even numeracy, and minimal algebraic skill. Students with high ability and grades in their other subjects often flounder when it comes to manipulation of numbers, statistics, simple formulae, graphs, etc. This is a serious problem in subjects from Biology and Medicine to Social Sciences. Even those with A-level Mathematics often have serious gaps in knowledge (Lawson), though vocational qualifications (GNVQ etc.) cause more problems. JF's recent survey of mistakes made by those with GCSE grade B (attached) indicates the kind of problems that bedevil the teaching and learning of number and algebra based topics."

Last year GCSE students on some exam boards were able to get a Grade C in maths with a 16% pass rate - i.e. having gotten 84% of the test wrong! This then qualified them to go on to AS Level where, if they fail the test the first time they simply take it again and again until they get a grade they like.

Is it any wonder Alan Johnson can point to rising pass-rates at GCSE and A-Level as a great New Labour achievement.

Meanwhile university professors and empoyers alike wring their hands in despair...

Anonymous said...

I'm sure many would agree with you, Anon of 10.38. The Editor of this blog has indicated that he does. But if the private schools are not to "pay something back to the community", then their charitable status - which gives them £100m per year in tax breaks - should end. You, and others who send their children to private school, should pay the full economic cost of your decision. That is entirely fair.

DrMoores said...

This sounds like the class-war politics of envy to me.

Independent schools reportedly save the state money by educating 7% of the population and charitable status at least removes the tax bill, which you might think of as double taxation because the parents have opted to have their children educated outside the system but are still paying for the system, rather like BUPA!!

Almost a third (31.5%) of pupils in ISC schools are given help with fees.

It is claimed that educating 500,000 pupils privately was saving the taxpayer £2bn a year so the government is doing rather well from private schools!

A significant proportion of the population make little or no claim upon the state and pay a significant proportion of their income to the state. If they wish to have their children educated to a higher standard than the state is able to offer, in most cases by making financial sacrifices, then it is only human nature. It always was so and will always be so. Just look at how China and Russia are changing as an example of how easily deep-seated socialist principles are thrown out of the window when people are given choice and a disposable income.

Alternatively, forget any consideration of private education for the children and a better chance in life for the next generation and buy a Sky Sports premium package, a wide screen television and two foreign holidays a year.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

I have been fortunate to teach in both the private sector and state sector. I preferred the former. Appreciative parents and pupils;a lean,supportive administration; concentration on the essential reason for the school, education; a sense that the classroom and what went on it was the most important reason for the school's existence; maximum investment in the classroom; a wide range of extra-curricular activities; a real emphasis on sport and games and most importantly, a direct link between the people who paid my salary (parents).
My state sector experience has been sad by comparison: bloated administration and 'leadership team'; derisory extra-curricular activity; pathetic sports and games programmes; poorly maintained and ill-equipped classrooms; class sizes in excess of 30 despite a teacher ratio of 1:16.8 pupils (too many assistant heads not teaching enough); expensive, kind-hearted but in-effective LSAs by the dozen; an LEA bloated with advisors and all sorts of costly support visitors etc whose costs are deducted from the school's budget; unsupportive parents and disruptive children with no respect for any-one. The sad fact is that the state sector school has had more money thrown at it and wasted than my private sector school ever had! The Independent Sector consistently provides better value for money because of the direct link between the customer and the service provider. This Government killed off the Asssisted Places scheme which many Indepedent Schools replaced with wider burasaries and scholarships. To remove Charitable Status from Independent Schools would be a nasty regression to the politics of envy and reveals that Old Labour still lurks under the facade of 'New Labour'. No Government has yet to realise that educational research since the 1940s all points to class size of 16 as the optimum and never more than 20 and setting by ability as the way to enhance learning. The state sector schools are loaded down with Govt paperwork; 240,000 LSAs and 1000's of non productive administrators. It is long over-due for the State Sector to privatise and give every parent a transferrable voucher to spend where they wish.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't they all want to spend it in the same place?

Anonymous said...

6.14 I'm 10.38. I understand your point but aren't I already paying tax on my salary, stealth taxes, VAT on everything I buy and not draining the local school resources so someone else can have my son's place?
I believe I'm paying more than the cost of my economic decision!