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Education: right or privilege?

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

During these unprecedented times, citizens across the world have had to adapt to a new ‘norm’ which has led to many changes, including the way in which exam results are awarded. With schools drawing to a close in March, students across England and Wales were unable to sit their A-level Exams leading to an algorithm being put in place to dictate these students’ futures.

The algorithm set by exam regulator Ofqual used information submitted by teachers alongside the performance of the schools in the previous 3 years. These together led to a system of moderation in which close to 40% of grades were downgraded.

This has led to much frustration following analysis that demonstrated that students from disadvantaged backgrounds have seen the highest proportion of grades being downgraded, whilst pupils from private schools saw an increase in A* and A grades more than twice as much as comprehensive schools. Does such an outcome indicate that prosperity is awarded based on the status of ones’ parents as opposed to perseverance?

With the allure that private schools hold it can lead to the diminishment of education standards in neighbouring public schools. The possession of financial means caters for a higher percentage of “good” students that will attract excellent teachers and allowing them to maintain an exceptional reputation. Those schools below this standard will be left with insufficient resources, that’ll hardly be able to cover for the bare essentials. This then drives away talented students and teachers and leads to an ever-growing contrast in the quality of education between the rich and the poor.

In response to this outcry, the government made a U-turn meaning that teacher assessed grades were awarded, but has this U-turn come too late? Such a fiasco has left universities unable to honour teacher assessed grades due to many courses already being full. With the available clearing options becoming more and more limited by the day, Councillor Asif Khan claimed that The clearing process for universities and colleges has finished for the more competitive courses.” This has left students with the dilemma of either accepting a course at an institution that they did not initially want to go to or risk taking a year out to apply again next year when courses would have become even more competitive.

In light of these circumstances we must consider the privilege that stems from a background in private education as it does not simply stop at school examination results. With 42% of Oxbridge places being awarded to private schools the accomplishments of fee-paying schools are indisputable. The narrow cohort that arise from a wealthy background not only have the upper hand in education but are also able to create and maintain a powerful network furthering their prospects in the job market. Where a person’s future is determined by factors such as wealth, it is inevitable that a system of inequality will continue to perpetuate, leaving those at the bottom of the class system unable to create a better life for themselves.

Due to this imbalance of success, positions of power and influence are overshadowed by the wealthy. This creates a government in which a privately educated minority rule a nation; indicated by the fact that the position of Prime Minister is being taken by another Eton alumni as they take their seat at downing street. This bolsters a system of social immobility, where progress is held back for many as a result of a failure to recognise the disproportionality in education standards between state schools and private schools.

Though private schools are not the sole cause of inequality within society, they are pivotal in creating a divide between the haves and have nots. The counterargument of there being multiple sources of inequality is not strong enough when evidence shows that a student’s school location has an impact on academic results by a factor of 10-20%. Given the significant impact that an individual’s school has on their achievements, is it not time to address this biased system of schooling to transform it into one that favours all students, not only the ‘lucky’ ones?

For decades, the fundamental impacts of private schools have run far too deep. Continuous austerity has emphasized the difference in resources between the strikingly funded private sector and the starved public sector. The most expensive private school within the UK is Eton at a shocking £14,167 a term per student whereas the provisional funding is approximately £5000 per year per student. When state schools are unable to provide their students with the basic equipment, it is beyond doubt to question the pre-eminence of institutions such as Eton.

Whilst steps have been taken to eradicate the issues that stem from private education on society as a whole, we are far from a future where our students can be educated together. During the Labour party conference, the pressure group Labour Against Private Schools aimed to convince the party to eliminate the privileges of private schools by integrating them into the state system. This resulted in the party vowing to close the “tax loopholes enjoyed” by private schools but a failure to promise to provide a system where our children could be educated together. Instead they proposed that if elected, they would establish an independent body that would advise the government on whether integrating private schools into the state system is beneficial. Are private schools truly so untouchable that even the left are too hesitant to provide compelling solutions?

In research run by the consultancy Oxford Economics it is clear to see the economic contributions that fee-paying schools make which leaves many unwilling to challenge their status in society. Private schools in Britain alone, supply a gross £11.7 billion to annual GDP and raise £4.7 billion in tax revenue. With capitalism being the economic system engrained within society it is very difficult to ignore the moneymaking element of these schools.

Where you stand on this debate essentially comes down to what you think the role of education should be. For me, it is about giving every child a fair opportunity to create a better life for themselves and to do so we need a system where every child has equal access to resources, no matter their position in the class system.

DC’s main goal is to decode encrypted news for an enlightened citizen

Niralee Shah, Warwick University


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