Let The Private Schools Take 25% At Random

The FT’s Helen Warrell today ran a piece suggesting that momentum is developing behind a campaign to subsidise the cost of private school tuition for the poorest pupils.

She wrote:

Under the programme, the government would divert the average £6,000 spent on a pupil in the state system to a child from a lower income family entering an independent school. Since the estimated £180m a year public grant would not cover the full cost of the private school places, richer parents paying fees would provide cross-subsidy.

This policy also existed in the 1980s, known as “assisted places”, but was stopped by Blair in 1997. This time around it is being branded as “open access” which is a bit odd given that it won’t be open to everyone. Private schools are not suggesting they will waive the entrance exams pupils must take to enter their hallowed halls. Hence, even if the places are paid for, all the policy really achieves is taking us back to a system of more selection .  (Not as good an idea as people like to believe).

If private schools really want to help the poorest, why not learn from India’s “25% Rule”?

In 2009, India’s “Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act ” made it compulsory for every unaided private school to admit 25% of their intake via a random lottery of disadvantaged students.

Unsurprisingly, the policy has caused quite the stir, with many people trying desperately to stop its faithful implementation. Of the Indian teachers I’ve spoken to some argue the private schools are not right for the poorest students because they are made to feel like ‘outsiders’; others argue that while the policy provides a good education for those who win it doesn’t help those who don’t.

Either way, it is a radical policy. And it shows how much more imaginative private schools could be if they really wanted to help. Taking in the “poor-but-bright” is yawnsome and risks repeating the grammar school problems of the past.

If India can come up with something more interesting, surely the masters of our top private schools can do so too?

15 thoughts on “Let The Private Schools Take 25% At Random

  1. Have you ever actually been in an Independent school and got to know the children and families? Most schools are not particularly rich and neither are the families that choose to spend their money this way. Many families earn modestly and make huge sacrifices, including working multiple jobs, to have their child in such schools. Families using Independent Schools already subsidise state schools through taxation; why should they subsidise others further?

    It is a myth that independent schools are “better” because of facilities or teachers, and that transplanting the children from an underperforming state school to the local independent school would magically alter the education of those children. Many independent schools have inferior facilities to state schools and the teachers are neither necessarily better nor worse although granted they are not hobbled by a damaging inspectorate and a baffling fixation on so called “progressive” pedagogy.

    There is a huge difference between the sectors in my experience though and I’m pretty sure that I know a big part of the reason why; it has nothing to do with money and rather a lot to do with the ratio of children that listen, behave, cooperate and do their work to those that don’t (and I don’t mean “classroom management” but rather classes that do not need managing).
    That ratio is what people are often desperate to buy. The real question is why is that ratio so much worse in many state schools and what can be altered to improve it?

    1. The arguments I am making here are not without substantial personal knowledge of independent schools, and the families who send their children to them, and the children who go. But let’s say that’s not the case. Why does it matter to this blog?

      The ratio is really down to cost. To have everyone be in small classes would cost more than most people are willing to pay in taxes. That issue is not solved by private schools being paid, by the state, to take in some students. If anything it can make it worse, as it simply starves local schools of the funds they need to operate effectively given their fixed costs.

    2. Just reread and see you’re not just on about numbers but also ratio of ‘well behaved’ students. The reason it is different in state schools is because they don’t ‘select out’ the ‘easiest’ pupils. Having independents siphon off even more of these pupils is unlikely to help, whereas if independents took a greater share of all pupils it might help balance out the ratio you are talking about.

      1. Why should state schools have to put up with poor behaviour from pupils? Why are parents not responsible for ensuring that their children behave? Having seen primary schools in poor parts of Paris, and very ordinary parts of Spain, I just don’t accept that other countries have these problems on this scale, or that we should have them either.

        1. If parents can independently ensure everything for their children….what is the point of school? One of the reasons why schools were first introduced was precisely because elites worried about the criminal behaviours of children and felt that they would become more disciplined if they were put through an education.

          1. I don’t mean to imply that parents can ensure everything, but they do have responsibilities, and I don’t see why teachers can’t expect reasonable behaviour. This behaviour is at the root of most of our problems – if a child doesn’t behave reasonably, he or she can’t learn, and will probably stop others from learning too. Poor children do not misbehave in other countries the way ours do, and I’m personally not convinced that the cause of this is poverty – I think it’s a question of attitudes.

          2. Of course we can expect it…but what do we do if we don’t get it?
            Take the students out of school? We know this leads to a higher likelihood of illiteracy, unemployment, criminal behaviour and then prison. It’s a pretty expensive route.

            Maybe ‘provide the support students need’? Schools often don’t have the cash or the know-how. And are so overloaded with problem cases they can’t effectively triage given the hours in the day.

          3. After forty years in this business, I think I have the know-how. The cash is another factor, as is the current preference for management rather than know-how. Have a look at my posting Labour’s strategy for more on this.

          4. The one on Deliverology? Loved that post. You’re spot on. (Fwiw, I worked on those sorts of rail and policing projects when I worked at KPMG).

          5. The KPMG point is interesting too – just how accountants came to do more than keep and check accounts was a mystery to me until it became clear that the data they gather means that sometimes they know things straightforward management doesn’t know. This then becomes an means of expanding their activities and growing their status until they’ve become some kind of guru on everything. One thing they don’t know about is teaching and learning, but that never holds them back.

  2. If the so called “siphon off” occurred then both those pupils and the independent school would probably benefit – surely a good thing for those children, but would indeed make their original school worse. Taking a random sample then, on paper, it would of course be true that the ratio would become more balanced nationally. In reality, if the independent school’s environment were noticeably altered, some families would simply choose to leave and go elsewhere. As I said, the learning environment fostered by the pupil’s dispositions is a very important part of what is actually being paid for and what some families work themselves to illness in order to provide (not seeming to acknowledge this was my reason for asking if you had any experience of the sector). I repeat, independent schools are not magical places that improve the fortunes of any children you happen to put in them.

    Why would damaging the places of learning of many children to raise some national standard by a trivial amount be a good thing? ‘Levelling down’ is a destructive philosophy; I suggest that the national focus ought to be on ‘levelling up’ and grasping the nettle of the real problems in state schools rather than on harming the independent sector.

  3. John – as much as I thought my colleagues at KPMG were excellent at what they did, that feeling of not truly knowing what a certain sector was like is why I retrained as a teacher.

    1. I objected to Thatcher’s assisted places scheme as an admission that the state system could not be good enough, and I suppose I still think the state system ought to be good enough. Unfortunately, there are so many cliques and vested interests around that it’s really hard for genuinely new thinking to break through. I don’t think the position is helped by the fact that you can become a professor of education without doing any academic work – just a sideways move from a position of authority in some other educational sphere.

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