We all face the dilemma whether to send our kids to private or state school. However, for most people it's not a dilemma. Paying out on average £6-8k a term - perhaps triple that if you have more than one child - is simply a privilege reserved for the better off.
And yet, there are people surprisingly, for whom funds are not an issue and yet they still choose state school over private.
When most independent schools boast better facilities, smaller class sizes, extensive extra-curricular activities... Who would really risk their children's success knowing all of that?
Whereas less than ten per cent of our population actually attends private school, the stats show a disproportionate percentage represented in top positions. 71 per cent of senior judges attended private school, 50 per cent of the House of Lords and 44 per cent of The Sunday Times Rich List. I always thought if the funds were there, it would hardly be a question.
And yet, here are seven successful families that I came across who can arguably afford the fees, the lifestyle and whose social network perhaps has more in common with most private school parents. Definitely more so than at our school, which has a high proportion of free school meals pupils. I'd never heard of this phenomenon before but it got me thinking...
If money wasn't an issue and setting an individual's politics aside, why would you choose state school over private?
Their answers surprised me.
1. "Because [ps] gives our children a false sense of reality". Number one on parents' list. One set of parents I spoke to (both of whom went to private school themselves) claimed "ps offers a mind-numbing environment and a false sense of security that children are 'entitled' and 'deserving' of all their privilege". It fails to equip their children for the realities of the world, which they subsequently will have to learn at university. "I don't want my children to be surrounded by people who are only like them and have lots of money", said one parent. "Not sure it makes them a nicer person."
2. Ethnic diversity. A no brainer I suppose. Most people know private schools are not as ethnically diverse as state schools though some are better than others. Outside London it is possible to have a diverse intake - in London it seems more polarised. For children who come from non-white backgrounds, this can be an important factor that is overlooked for the sake of achievement, but confidence and identity can suffer. On the other hand, even for children who are not from an ethnically diverse background, surrounding them with children and families who are ethnically similar gives a false sense of reality for when they enter the working world. The world is a melting pot and (think Made in Chelsea), having friends of different backgrounds can show children different ways of working and compromise.
3. It can give kids a false sense of entitlement and achievement. Knowing that your parents paid for your education and that you got to where you are because of help can also effect confidence. Many parents don't want their children to feel that they're entitled to a 'leg up' and feel that they should work hard to get to where they want to be.
4. "I can think of better ways to spend £350k (a lifetime of school fees)". Well, so could I when you put it that way. Parents I spoke to said it's important for them to give their children experiences outside of school which will enrich their learning. For example, they took them on holiday to Kenya where they got to see animals in the wild and visited a local village and an orphanage. Still a privileged lifestyle but they argued they may not have been able to afford those trips if the children were in private school.
5. Higher expectations. It never occurred to me that there was more pressure from universities if your child attended private school. Some universities will ask for higher exam results from certain private schools than from some state secondary schools.
6. Private schools in the area only offer single sex education. Many private schools are single sex but state primaries and secondary's are co-ed. Depending on the child, this can be a big factor for parents making that decision.
7. No need. Many parents look for private schools to fill in the gaps of parenting, But if you are hands on and supportive of your children's schooling, it is possible to make up the difference. It can be expensive, but less so than private school if you enrol your children in music/sport/drama/languages and tutoring in areas of weakness. And still have plenty left over to help them through university and setting up a home or career.
8. Life is not purely about academic achievement. Yes, private schools can guarantee better results and they will challenge your children to do their very best but for some parents, it's about providing a happy home, making sure they get jobs they enjoy and are good at, but which they can leave behind at the end of the working day. Achievement and results are part and parcel of most academic private schools. And that's not a bad thing but perhaps not what's right for all children or all parents. "I want to support my children in their ambitions", said one parent. "That's more important than an Oxbridge degree or friends in high places."
9. Depends on the child. Some children need that extra push that a private school can give- they're much more hands on. Some children will get lost in the academic pressure that governs many independent schools. So it really can be about what would suit your child best.
10. The state school down the road is simply better than the private ones. Like state schools, there are good independent schools and poor ones. Given how much is at stake, choosing your local state school is not necessarily about choosing the lesser school. Both can vary and it's important to do your research about whether your local state school can do just as good a job if not better.