Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Stop Knocking Private Schools

It's reported that nearly 50% of London 2012 medal winners come from a private school background.

"Unfair," say those who think private education is wrong in a modern Britain. "The percentage shows it's the privileged who achieve," is another oft heard remark about those who have had a private education.

Is a private education a privilege?  Yes, although many children who attend private schools come from homes where money is tight but parents have decided to make substantial sacrifices to send their child/children to be educated away from the state system.  These parents continue, through their taxes, to support the state education system and receive no tax rebate for opting out of it.

Why are there so many privately educated young people excelling in sport (as well as other subjects)?

One of the reasons is that the daily timetable for a privately educated child differs greatly from their state educated peer.  Many schools begin lessons at 8.30am, have shorter lunch times and the academic day ends far beyond the 3.30pm of the state system.  Hobbies such as extra-curriculum sports are undertaken outwith class hours and it can be compulsory for every child to have a number of interests.  The extra time pupils and staff dedicate to such hobbies in their daily timetables show rewards.

Competition has always been prominent in private schools, yet it's not so long ago it was completely discouraged in state schools.  Educators wanted all children to be 'equal' because being a loser could damage self esteem.  A dreadful policy because not all children can achieve the same results.  It surprised me how easily families accepted this without question and we created a generation of children who have little understanding of the words endeavour or effort. Medal winning Olympians are exceptionally competitive people and it's that quality which has enabled them to rise, through the ranks, to be the best.

What can be done to increase state educated children's participation in sport?

Education authorities could introduce a policy insisting that every child attends at least one extra-curriculum hobby once a week - be it sport or arts related. Not all areas of these require large financial contributions from parents.

Scotland has introduced a programme with the Active Schools Network which is progressing reasonably well but requires more professional coaches/teachers and volunteers. Volunteers are essential for those children who do not have family support.

England appears to be in a muddle.

Perhaps the most important aspect is time.  That's where the private school sectors wins, because it realises a five-and-a-half hour daily timetable is completely inadequate for the inclusion of sport or the arts in a child's development.  Most private school pupils have at least seven hour timetables with boarding schools providing mandatory weekend activities.

Instead of complaining about private schools producing 50% of Olympic medalists, shouldn't we be grateful for their systems and learn from them?


Oldrightie said...

As ever an excellent piece and well argued and crafted.A Subrosa natural gift! What is never discussed in this debate, however, or rarely, is the element related to genetic inherited ability or, a swear word in the socialist lexicon, breeding.

Without the hundreds of thousands of heavy industrial and mining type jobs for sheer labour, we have this nonsensical belief we can make everyone, via a socialist, dogma driven state education system, doctors, scientists, teachers, (well, when they were meant to educate) and so forth.

That is palpably and logically impossible. So, an underclass has been created and swollen by mass immigration which, in the main, is of poor and genetically disadvantaged equivalents to those already languishing in the sink estates. All the private education available will never dent that scenario. What it does do is allow some semblance of aptitude to survive, just.

Macheath said...

You are right about time; long after state schools have been deserted at the end of the day, their private counterparts are still running activities and matches.

This would, of course, be impossible without the teaching staff, many of whom hold sports coaching certificates as well as their academic qualifications.

Since some of your readers may be unfamiliar with how the system works, may I elaborate?

A typical week for a member of staff at an independent school I know well runs thus (teaching a full timetable, lesson preparation, marking homework, reports, exam entries and parents' evenings are taken as read):

evening and mealtime supervisions as required, usually including at least one evening a week to 10.30pm
staff and tutor meetings and non-sports activities such as chess
a minimum of three hours of sports coaching and two hours team practice a week, as well as taking the team to all away matches (driving a minibus if necessary) and refereeing home ones.

The working week runs from 8am on Monday to 6pm on Saturday with several Sunday events every year as well - that's why the holidays are comparatively long.

Somehow, I can't see the more militant unions getting enthusiastic about bringing this culture into state schools...

Elby the Beserk said...

It's not just sport though, is it? It's all education. The Left's constant railing against private schooling is simply to create so much noise that the real problem is ignored - and the real problem is the failure of the state school system.

Ask not why the private schools are so good at whatever, ask rather why the state's provision is so poor, all the more so given the huge sums poured into education this past 15 years.

Hamish said...

It is part of the Scottish democratic tradition that all children have an equal right to education. The laird's daughter and the ploughman's son go to the same school. This model is still the norm outside the big cities, but in anglicised Edinburgh something like 25% of children go to private schools.
The parents clearly wish the best for their own children, but their choice weakens the state system.
The key determinants of a good school are independence of the head-teacher and staff, and supportive parental involvement.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Where I live in a leafy suburb of Edinburgh the local "Community High School" swimming pool is closed every weekend and the school all-weather playing pitch has been lying unused and derelict for a decade or more due to lack of maintenance and repair.

The municipal tennis courts lay for decades in an unplayable condition until some people in the community managed to raise funding to get them renewed but there are already signs that the local authority is failing to maintain them properly as grass is growing on parts of the surface.

The children's play-parks are also in an absolutely shocking state with some being virtually unplayable owing to decades of neglect.

The Community Council appears to have no influence or power whatsoever and so nothing ever gets done about this disgraceful state of affairs despite the fact that we have two Councillors covering the constituency from the ruling Labour/SNP coalition, and local residents who might have powerful influence to get changes made don't bother to get involved because their children are all in private education in Edinburgh.

pa_broon74 said...

A lot of state school problems are down (I think) to a certain amount of belligerence between authorities and teachers.

Shona Robison was on Newsnight lastnight (or Scotland Tonight, I forget which) and she was being pressed on whether to make it policy that teachers do some sort of sport outwith their normal duties, I don't think its the right way to go about it, a bit like my boss asking me to volunteer a couple of hours of my time to do, ummm, IT training? I'd say no.

Speaking as someone for whom PE or games was a weekly ritual of horror, shame and mortification (I know that surprises many given my athletic figure, stop laughing at the back...) But I hated it all passionately, its just not to everyones taste.

I think this is one of those things that looks bad but actually isn't. Its being painted as being 'a bad thing' not because the wrong people are winning medals but because privately educated people are and that, (as has been said) misses the point.

I volunteer with young folk and never before have we experienced such competition for the kids time, we struggle to compete with all the stuff they have on offer, and parents? Talk about micro-management, they make Tony Blair look like an amateur, if its not Karate, football, hockey or drama club we're competing with its an xbox or an ithing.

English Pensioner said...

I don't think that it is a matter of our Olympic winners coming from private schools, I think it is more that they come from families which have the money to support their children's hobbies, and such people often send their children to private schools.
I could never have afforded the costs involved for my children, even if the choice was restricted to those sports requiring minimal kit such as athletics. It was enough hassle getting them to choir practice, bell ringing practice, brownies, guides etc, when all I wanted was an evening's rest after a day at work, not to be providing a taxi service.
AS for the more expensive sports, rowing, sailing, etc, they are simply beyond the purse of most people, and when it comes to equestrian sports, well the cost of owing an ordinary horse is horrendous, let alone the cost of buying one for eventing.
So as far as I am concerned it's the availability of money, not the schools that produces the best athletes.

Sobers said...

I think as English Pensioner points out there's a deal of self selection here. Yes private schools have wonderful facilities, and that has got to help, but the amount of parental involvement and encouragement is just as, if not more, important. Ask any successful sportsman or woman who was the greatest help in their career, and many if not all will cite (among coaches of course) their parents for driving them to interminable coaching sessions, county trials, interclub/county matches etc etc. Any young sports star who lacks that parental input is going to struggle to make it. You won't make the team if you can't get to the trials, however good you are.

And such supportive parents are more likely to be prepared to pay for their childs education, particularly if it gives greater access to better sporting facilities (see Andy Murray's career - State educated to 15, then sent to a private tennis school in Spain by his parents).

Brian said...

I won a governors' scholarship to attend the independent school that my brother had gone to for free when it was a direct-grant grammar school. Fees aren't an issue if you are prepared to work hard.
State schools would be better resourced and achieve more for their pupils if more parents gave a monkey's about academic and sporting achievement instead of regarding them as free warehouses to mind their sprogs during the day.

Joe Public said...

The silence is deafening about the skin-colour of the majority of participants in the track events.

pa_broon74 said...

Not to mention the skin colour of, I reckon all the participants in the rowing events...


Anon said...

The kids in inner London who are doing best in the state schools are the West Indians and other immigrants.

There are good private schools and bad private schools.

In the 1950s some of the teachers in private schools in Dundee were allegedly very third rate.

What we need is lots of very small schools of different types, so people have a choice.

Unfortunately, all the small schools where I live have been closed down, to be replaced by one large ugly primary school and one secondary school.

The girls in the secondary school dress like prostitutes.

- Aangirfan

subrosa said...

You're too kind OR and I apologise if this sounded more of a rant than anything else.

Of course that's impossible. I'm weary of the envy displayed at times because not all privately educated youngsters come from well-to-do backgrounds.

The state system started with the abolition of the grammer school/ secondary modern system. Not all abilities can be taught together.

subrosa said...

Thank you for your excellent contribution Macheath.

In my experience private school teachers are paid less than their counterparts in the state system yet they work much longer hours.

Some private schools have lessons on a Sunday but, to my knowledge, all have some form of religous service. If the school can't provide for a child's religious beliefs they make arrangements with somewhere that can.

subrosa said...

As I said to OR Elby, it all started with the demise of the grammer school/secondary modern.

We have children who have to sit through academic lessons when they only want to be doing vocational skills - and vice versa of course.

subrosa said...

Hamish, Edinburgh has always had far more private schools than anywhere in the UK - as you say because it's thought of as the London of the North.

That doesn't mean to say that the council should allow such a deterioration of their state system. Years ago a prominent Edinburgh politician told me 'with all these youngsters being privately educated, we lose high quality pupils in the state system'.

He didn't seem to understand most children privately educated aren't super bright but it's the private system which develops them to their full potential.

subrosa said...

That's a disgrace M. I agree community councils are quite useless.

As for the parents of the state educated children they should get their act together. They may not have the funds of some parents who send their children to be educated privately, but surely they have the intelligence and determination to get together and take their complaints to the highest level.

I know if I was involved in such a disgrace then I'd be spending every minute of my free time protesting publicly.

subrosa said...

I didn't see either programme last night pa_broon but they're recorded so I will look later.

I wasn't a sportsperson either but we were all given a chance to learn a musical instrument. That's why I mention the arts too because not every child has athletic ability.

So pleased to hear you work with young folk. I would have liked my voluntary work to involve them, however in this area there's no demand for some reason unless I want to be involved in the guides, brownies etc.

Parental involvement is all plus time.

subrosa said...

There are hobbies which involve little expense, except taxi driving as you mention EP.

A neighbour of mine, not at all wealthy, has a son who is a good skater. She gets up at 4am for 5 mornings a week to take him to Dundee for practice before school. Without having her mother live with them she couldn't do that because her other children are below 16. If she left them she could be arrested.

EP, there has been much more money ploughed into the state system in the last 10 years - far more than the private sector achieves.

subrosa said...

Sobers, can I say there are possibly just as many 'neglected' children in the private sector as the state system (pro rata). Not all parents send their children to private education for achievement reasons. Some use boarding schools for other reasons, believe me.

What it does show is that parental support is what children need. I didn't have that because both my parents worked and that was the norm in the 50s, but I did have support from my Dad with my school homework. Otherwise he wasn't interested.

I was fortunate to win a bursary to an academy at the age of 6 and my teachers instilled my values and encouraged my strengths. There was more encouragement from them for my natural musical ability than from my mother who was a prominent musician then.

Once I was past the beginner stage she realised my flowering talent may be beneficial to her future so I was used to promote her talents. A sad story nobody wants to hear and I really don't want to remember.

subrosa said...

A very good point Brian. That also happens in the private sector of course.

subrosa said...

And strangely nobody mentions their education either Joe.

banned said...

There was a letter in the Telegraph last week which stated that it was a requirement for prospective teachers at a given public school to be willing to run at least two extracurricular activities as part of the job

Tom Daley (team GB diver) accepted some form of scholarship at a public school in response to bullying at the Plymouth sink comprehensive that he previously attended.

Disenfranchised of Buckingham said...

It's down to an ethos of excellence and hard work.

My youngest's lessons start at 8:30 and finish at 4:40. 6 days a week. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoon is sport. For every one, no excuses. My older kids were able to give up sport in the 4th form.

My daughter hopes to be in the first team for hockey. She will return to school at the end of August, several days before the term starts to commence training.

Every one is expected to be in a school team, even if it's only U16 5ths.

The holidays are long. That's when they fit in the 3 week sports tours. If bank holidays get in the way of the school term then they are just another school day.

What happens to retired international sportsmen? They end up as coaches at public and private schools. No need for teaching indoctrination.

Want to improve state school sport? Easy;). Do the above. After that we can start talking about resources.

subrosa said...

That doesn't surprise me in the least banned, yet private schools attract quality teachers. Many of them have to live 'on the job' too but they don't appear to mind, even though most are paid less than state school staff.

subrosa said...

That's very typical of private schools up here too DoB. Boarding schools have homework/study 6 nights a week too and that all adds up to maximising a child's development.

I believe governments are ploughing more money than ever before into the state sector, yet standards continue to fall.

With state children attending classes for only around 27 hours a week and little discipline applied, few have the chance to shine.

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