01/10/2013 04:32 BST

Parents Judged As 'Morally Wrong' To Send Children To Private School

Parents are being made to feel it is morally wrong to send their children to private school, according to a leading headteacher.

Dr Tim Hands, Master of Magdalen College School in Oxford, suggested it was "illogical" that buying a house, car or holiday can been seen as acceptable but paying to educate a youngster privately is not.


Dr Hands suggested that some state schools are more exclusive than private schools

He also warned that government education reforms over the last 50 years have put academic success over children's happiness.

Dr Hands, who is this year's chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), said that in the last few decades people have become "more bothered" about private education, and this has been fuelled by the attitudes of politicians.

"Making the journey to independent education, parents are currently made to feel, is an unacceptable mobility: expenditure on purchase of a car, holiday or house is moral; expenditure on the education of the child is not," he said.

"The illogicality is clear. Why should those members of the public who so value education find that those responsible for publicly funded education do not value them?"

In a speech to the HMC's annual meeting in central London, Dr Hands said in 2005 then prime minister Tony Blair spoke about how parents could transform their child's education.

"Examples included moving house in order to access a better school and employing a personal tutor - one quarter of all parents in London pay for private tuition in the course of their child's school career," he said

"Moral opprobrium attached to neither of these, though the latter is of course paying for a private education, and the former is not social but postcode mobility, potentially productive of social division."

Dr Hands suggested that in some cases, state schools are more exclusive than private schools.

He cited The London Oratory School, a state Catholic secondary school, claiming that only a small percentage of its pupils are eligible for free lunches - a key measure of poverty - and that it had been reported that houses nearby were on sale for millions of pounds.

At the other end of the scale Christ's Hospital, a fee-paying school in Horsham, West Sussex, the majority of pupils receive bursaries and few pay the full fees.

Ahead of his speech, Dr Hands said: "My feeling is as a parent that over the decades people have come to feel more bothered about the concept of private education, and that has been politically fuelled."

He suggested to delegates there is a view that being privately educated is damaging to a child, and that youngsters are at risk of becoming social lepers.

"We are asked to believe that our schools induce a new kind of social leprosy, with one politician recently arguing that attendance at an independent school was 'seriously disabling'."

Earlier this year, Lord Adonis, who served as a schools minister under the last Labour government, said that parents who send their children to private school are buying a "high quality academic education".

But he added that it can be "seriously disabling for students going to exclusive fee-paying schools that they see so little of society while they are at those schools."

Dr Hands said: "Our schools are not marooned on islands of privilege; they are instead preventing our island from being marooned. It is not our schools that are splendidly isolated but our politicians."

He also used his speech to say that children have been "neglected" by government education policy in the last half century.

"The story of the last 50 years is the intrusion of government and the disappearance of the child. More radically put, it is by extension the intrusion of the state, and the disappearance of love," he said.