Monday, 21 February 2011

Am I really dooming my children to failure by sending them to a (gasp) state school?

An admission:

I am expensively privately educated.  So is B.  In fact (possibly ironically) the only part of either of our education that our parents didn't pay for was the university bit.

Our children, on the other hand, are going to be educated at the taxpayer's (and yes, that does include us) expense.  State schools all the way.  Mostly because we can't afford otherwise, but also partially because we are woolly Guardian reading types who believe in state education.  I look at my friends from university, all highly (if not equally, most of them are much cleverer than me) intelligent, articulate, gifted people, and I see a mix of educational backgrounds.  Admittedly they aren't representative of the statistics: if 93% of the population goes to state school, surely 93% of my university friends should have done likewise.  No prizes for guessing that it's nothing like that much, but it's still a majority, as it should be, and it was a pretty good university too.

I am, admittedly, being a little disingenuous.  One of the reasons we moved out of London was because we didn't want to end up in the panic of being allocated a "bad" school, and we did (of course we did) check out the HMIE (Ofsted to anyone South of Coldstream) reports on the schools round here before we moved.  And, if I'm honest, if we'd been told all the schools were disastrous, we wouldn't have moved here but would have waited to find a house somewhere where we felt our children would get a better education.

But here we are. Our town has two primary schools and one high school, and we've already picked the primary school (it's the bigger one, so that we can separate A&S if we decide that's the right thing for them), and are looking at the high school pupils in disbelief that our children will ever be old enough to wear that uniform.

But, you know what? I remain, a little, frightened of this decision.  We went to look at the primary school a couple of months ago and I was terrified.  I think, somewhere in my privately-educated subconscious, I genuinely thought it was going to be a hideous, dirty, disorganised place, probably with metal detectors on the doors, and 8-year-olds shooting up in the playground.  And (funnily enough) it's not.  Admittedly the buildings aren't the most beautiful, but the staff were clearly committed, kind and interesting, and the work displayed was of excellent quality. Most importantly the children were pleasant and polite and clearly enjoyed their time there.

And I don't think that's unrepresentative.  I suspect that the vast majority of UK primary schools, particularly those outside the bigger cities, are like that.  I suspect that most children are getting a decent education and are making good friends, rather than taking weapons to school, or drinking in their lunchbreak, or swearing at the staff.

Yet that's not the image we get is it?  There was (and this is what has provoked this post) a long article (part of a series) in yesterday's Sunday Times (I can't link to it, because you'd have to pay), telling the fictionalised story of a school in which the teachers are terrified to use discipline, the children attack each other with iron bars, and the head tells his staff not to stand in front of the class and actually teach the pupils (sorry, "students").

Katharine Birbalsingh, the author, was formerly the deputy head of a South London comprehensive, so must have a wealth of experience, and I don't for a second suggest that she's made any of it up in her quest to ensure that no-one is identifiable.  I'm sure it is true, but it's true, or at least I hope against hope that's it's true, only in a tiny, tiny minority of cases.   And what gets me is that it perpetuates a myth.  The myth that your children will be doomed if you educate them in the state system. The myth that echoes unspoken round the privately-educated minority: that state school equals failure. Failure for the children, and failure by the parents who have not given their children, for whatever reason, the best start in life.

And I think that this has a knock on effect.  I'm sure that if everyone was state educated, and we didn't have a two-tier system, then the system would be better for everyone.  For a start, a significant minority of talented teachers wouldn't be being creamed out, and the parents, who must in the main care deeply about their children's education (else why fork out all that money?) would be putting their time and committment and interest into schools that benefit everyone, not just the children of other, similar, parents.

But that's not going to happen, is it? Or at least it's not going to happen while the myth prevails.  People who can afford to will opt out, because they'll remain (as a small part of me still is) scared not to. Now, I realise that I am, once again, talking about the media, and I realise that "I had a perfectly lovely time at my state school and came out with fine results and no drug habit and am now reading an interesting degree at a good university" is hardly going to sell newspapers, but wouldn't it be lovely to see it?  Just once?

Or am I wrong?  Are my children doomed?  And is the lottery my only hope?


  1. But you have moved to essentially get the best education you can for your children, for free. I don't see the difference, staying put and paying for the best education/start in life or moving to a safer haven where a state education is less risk averse. I would be more impressed if you stood by your principles of state education for all, including your own, while living in a London suburb. You haven't taken that risk though and have instead moved to a place where it isn't such a gamble to state educate your children as there isn't the same competition to gain a place at a preferred state school.
    State educated Scot (and as a result will always compromise my principles for a better education for my kids)

  2. I'm also privately educated and - for the same reasons as you - going to be sending my children through the state education. They are at a state primary and I can honestly say it is brilliant. OK, they aren't doing 10 spellings a day and they aren't being pushed pushed pushed but at this age, I think that is the right thing. I am totally confident that sending my children to a state primary has been the right decision.

    I am going to struggle when it comes to secondary schools.

  3. Oh gosh, well with 3 kids, having experienced Scottish state, American private, and American state schools, I feel I should have a valid opinion. But I suppose my feeling is that schools within each sector vary hugely, children very hugely, and the whole thing is a bit of a lottery anyway.

    One of the things that I struggle with in the private sector is the hugeness of the privilege. Children of friends have been on school trips to Kuala Lumpur, and on choir tours to Brazil. Then there's always ski-ing. Doing a sport or activity is a choice of "which one", rather than "what can we afford?" and I do sort of wonder if life might be a bit of a disappointment after that kind of treatment for 13 years.

    I do see, from having moved here, that the English (and maybe the Scots too - not sure about that) are obsessed with educational choices. It really is as if the choice of school determines your child's happiness. I like the way it is more relaxed over here (in my neck of the woods anyway). Choice of school isn't the be-all and end-all, and people move their kids around much more frequently (which is possible as there isn't so much pressure on places). If anything, it's which sports team your child is with that seems to be the big deal!

  4. That was meant to be "children vary hugely", but "children [vary understood] very hugely" is rather better.

  5. Whenever I read posts/articles like this I am so grateful that I am living in Ireland now. I was educated at a Welsh grammar school and now all three of my kids go to 'state' schools in Dublin. DD1 is about to take her final school exams and I am expecting her to do very well and go to the university of her choice as will about 60% of her year. It doesn't have all the facilities of some private schools but all her friends moved up to the same school after primary and all has gone pretty well.

  6. Both me and my husband are state educated - mine was a grammar school, and my husband's was a Scottish comprehensive. I had a good experience, my husband's was not so good. We had always planned to send our kids to state schools, but we live in the inner city, and although we have tried to sell up and move to somewhere the schools are better, we haven't managed it. As a result my elder son (and probably younger too at this rate) is in a private school. It's been very good for him, but I'm not sure what we'll do if we manage to move. Decisions, decisions. Education is in a real mess at the moment.

  7. State Educated Scot - To be honest, schools were much more a factor in the decision where to move *to* than the decision to move *from* London, which was much more about lifestyle (bigger house, smaller mortgage). If we'd still been there, they'd definitely have been state educated (see the mortgage!), but it would have (or could have) been a much more fraught experience. Interesting though, and from my point of view, worrying, that both you and Jude feel that the educational experience you (or in Jude's case her partner) had in the Scottish system was such that it is not what you want for your children. Given that mine will all also be State Educated Scots in due course, I'm wondering whether I am being foolishly naive. I wasn't looking to impress in the post, more to have a rant about the media and to seek reassurance that this decision (for all that it is not irrevocable) was not one we would regret in years to come. Interesting therefore that the first comment I have implies that maybe we will. One to think about, definitely. Thank you.

    Pants with Names - Thanks for the reassurance. Interesting though that you see it as different at secondary. There are no private secondary school here so we would have to send them boarding if that was how we felt and we don't want to do that. We will have to see how our feelings change once we are actually in the system.

    Iota - Interesting how it differs. I wonder, at least in the States, if that's because there isn't the same number of people attending private school, and certainly not the same sense sense that it has a big impact on future success (see the cabinet/the FTSE100 CEOs etc etc) as it does in the UK. I don't know. As for Scotland, I haven't been here long enough to know, but I get the impression it varies depending on where you are - in Edinburgh for example where there are about a million private schools, it seems much more of an issue than it does here, where there's only one and that's 15 miles away...

    ps like the typo - although to be honest it's me that feels "very hugely" at the moment!

    Blue Sky - why do you think that is? What has Ireland got right that isn't working in the UK?

    Jude - see above!

  8. The whole schooling choices thing does worry me - as a working mum, to some extent I need the school to deliver aspects I can't because I'm not there during the day and its a worry that I will get it wrong, especially since where we live is not set up for us to not be at home with the children

  9. Our children's schooling is always going to concern us, wherever we are in the country. I was privately educated (at a small Convent school), my husband was educated at a large state primary and then comprehensive - we both did well (Oxford PhDs) in the end.

    I live in North London where there are three schools in my particular catchment area with outstanding Ofsted reports - they are highly subscribed and the top two are Catholic. My daughter is being baptised next month and school was a large factor in my decision (I am Catholic, BTW, but was not, until now, practicing much).

    I am doing what I can to optmise my daughter's choices the best way I know how without moving out of London (as I love it here). If she doesn't get into her top two choices or even three choices (the third, non-Catholic school is rated 1-slash-2, so still good) then we'll either a) put her in private school or b) move to a better London borough.

    My MIL thinks I am a hypocrite and that may be the case, but I want Little Planet to go to a good school - state or private.

  10. In Belgium we hardly have any private education, and everyone seems fine. I did go to a private school for a couple of years in Edinburgh and was amazed at the facilities available, and the price of the uniforms.

    I'm sure your children will be fine. Research in Belgium has shown that the main influence in a child's school results is the home environment, not so much the school.

  11. Oh God that is why we read to our girls every night without fail, hoping a love of books will give them the leg up they will sorely need. We are still in London, going the church school route (if we prove Godly enough) and we too are both privately educated. My theory is that school fees have gone up more than property prices. Which is one heck of a hike. (BTW - I am guest editing the SW London Twin Mag next month, but am now almost 2 children behind you, so perhaps have less excuse for not finding the £ for the school fees!)

  12. Is your concern more about the 'other' parents at state schools? The issue of whether the other parents are as invested in their child's education is an interesting one and is likely to have more impact on how 'well' a child does at school than the the simple school selection...

  13. It sounds to me as though your decision to educate your children in state school might help to bring down some barriers that are long overdue in coming down. Every bit makes a difference, and the more children encouraged to learn and make the most of their education that come into the state system, hopefully a broader shift in quality in state schools (and perception of it) might start to occur.

  14. A thorny issue, this one, almost guaranteed to get the heckles raised!

    I'm privately educated, my husband isn't, and we always thought, on principle, we'd send our child to a state school and he has been up until now. My son will go to secondary school this year and the whole process has been nightmarish - and my friends still in London vouch for it being far worse. Yes I think the media does drum up fear and yes it's hard not to imagine the worst but having gone round the state schools where my son may end up, my fears were mostly realised. We entered him for the private school exam, he passed and we're now in an absolute dilemma over what to do. When it's your child facing life in a 'sink, failing school,' my principles are taking a bashing.

  15. I am fortunate to live out on the country and in an area where the state schools are good. BUt there is a lot of money around here and a lot of private schools. Almost as many in number as the state schools. The kids in the private schools do seen to be ahead of the state school children (talking as a Brownie leader with a mix of girls in the group) but everything seems so pressured and there is so much money flying about that I wonder if a poorer child is better off in their own 'set' as friendship base etc will be easier. Also if you put every penny into education would the lack of extra cash at home then affect them in other ways. Life is all about balance. If you can comfortably afford private I would do it, if you can't then go for the best state school you can. As I say am lucky it is a small choice here and they are all high achieving.

  16. This is a horror of a subject for parents. Well, I was privately educated until 8yrs old, then small catholic primary then large, catholic comprehensive as at time the grammar schools were shite where we lived. Alpha Male was state all the way & left after getting 2 crap A levels. As you know I tottered off to a decent uni' & became a lawyer, AM worked his way through a myriad of jobs before finding his niche and know is MD of a huge multinational. Go figure? Our kids have been in enormous state primary (90 per year group); private international school; tiny village state primary (97 in entire school) and we now have youngest two at little private prep school in cheltenham & eldest in small rural state secondary.

    I have more opinions & experiences on schooling than even I care for. My only advice though is this....Trust your gut instinct always & never be afraid to change your mind, even if that means changing school. Teachers have an entire career to learn how to be a great teacher but you get one shot at being your child's parent. Be their advocate, be their support and just be their. Engaged parents produce happy kids, wherever they go to school.

    MD xxx

  17. See my crappy catholic education not only gave me a lifetime of guilt but also an inability to spell "now" & "there".

    And to think I now spend my days moaning about the spelling abilities of 20-somethings.......

    MD xxx

  18. I hate to say it, but as someone who went to a state school, as did my husband and all of both our families, that post comes across as incredibly patronising. Sorry.

  19. Muddling - aaaaaaargh! That's another complication isn't it? It was another factor in our decision for me to become a consultant actually - I couldn't see any way in which my (incredibly supportive and kind) boss would say yes to me working 10-2 but that would have been the only way of fitting school and work together, assuming no extra out of school help....

    Planethalder - when you add the religious element (which doesn't seem to exist in the same way up here - all the schools seem to do nativity plays etc, but without specifically being "church schools". I haven't yet worked out if that's just this town or whether the whole system is different), the whole thing becomes even more of a minefield. Really good luck!

    Mwa - well if it's the home environment, mine are definitely doomed! Seriously though, that's another question isn't it? I was talking to someone about exactly this issue recently and she was saying that all the encouragement and love of learning they have tried to instil in their children was very swiftly knocked out by the peer pressure to be cool (and by extension not work hard at school) once they got to secondary.... That said, it wasn't cool to work hard at my school either, so that's clearly not a state/private thing.

    Zookeeper - looking forward to reading the mag! And well done you for taking it on... you're absolutely right on prices though. My dad was a partner in a firm of accountants and well paid. My mum didn't work. They sent three of us to boarding school. We had friends here this weekend who are teachers in a similar boarding school. They say the majority of the parents are now all either mega well paid, CEOs or bankers, or international, or both desperately working all the hours to scrabble to find the fees... The equivalents of my parents don't have a hope.

    Emma - it wasn't, actually, but it is an interesting point. One to discuss....

    Tanya - it would be nice, wouldn't it?! Not sure we'll achieve much on our own though...!

    Deer Baby - I know! I'm always a bit nervous about blogging about stuff people care about, because I don't want to offend, but at the same time, that article did make me both furious and terrified... I'm not sure what we'd be doing if we were faced with a school that really was as she portrayed. Really good luck to you, will be interested to see what you do.

    Kelloggsville - interesting take on the money issue too. We're not totally impoverished, but with four, private education would only be possible with a massive increase on the mortgage and not being able to do lots of the other things we'd like to do with them. I suppose the question is whether education is just about the academic results... which my logical brain tells me it's not, but my emotional, still stuck being 16 and waiting for my own results brain isn't so sure of!!

    MD - you made me smile, as usual! Sorry that AM's education has meant that he hasn't made anything of his life, too... Good to be reminded, as well, that no decision is irrevocable. We may well find that what is right for one child and one stage is different for another, and perhaps the biggest thing is just to concentrate on what works for each one.

    Rhian - I'm sorry you feel like that. It was not my intention to patronise anyone.

  20. Great post. I'm privately educated too, but like you am a Guardian-reading left-leaning type who's pro state schools. But when we move back to London next year, unless we buy a house that costs millions in order to be next door to a 'good' state school, we will be looking at going private. Many of my friends have moved out of London for this very reason. And I have to say, it's one reason I would stay where we are in the US, where most people go the local school and there isn't all this debate.

    Having said that, it sounds like the state schools where you are will be good - and I actually think to do well at a good state school sometimes stands children in better stead than doing OK at some mediocre private school.

  21. this has suddenly become an issue for us; I am a state schl teacher & always passionate abt improvign state education & working in it. I am grammar schl educated, my husband is a private schl product. However since living abroad, for the last 5 yrs,my children have been in international schls (ie essentially 'private;) Admittedly full of mch more 'normal' kids as often it's the only option in a country where yr children dont know the local lang. My kids' current schl is 0nly 90 strong across 9 yr/grade grps. v small, familyish, friendly schl. V diff to anything they wd have experienced in the UK.
    Even so my son has been (mildly) bullied in the 2 schls, (despite being sporty, intelligent & not weird or nerdy).
    Having taught in comps for 20 yrs (& some gd ones at that) I did rather worry abt how his love of learning & studying wd go down & how he wd survive some of his peers' attitudes & the bullies etc.
    I def think the ideal (but not v likely) wd be to have NO private schls so everyone invested in state educ'n & it HAD to improve. I also think state primarys are great & wd always opt for a state primary for my kids.
    After mch deliberating & feeling tehre were no viable options for him here in Albania, & as a result of our son feeling seriously frustrated, & having been identified as 'gifted' by a visiting team from America, we decided to let him sit the exam to get into a q academic schl, wch he passed, & we are in the v fortunate postion of his granparents offering to pay for him completely. I never, in a million yrs, thoguht we, as charity workers, wd ever be sendign our kids to a private schl & I never even gave it a moment's thought, tho this is what my husband always hoped for. I know we are incredibly fortunate & I am v grateful, but I do worry that he will be amngst peers in a whole diff financial league wth q diff backgrounds. & it feels weird having this privilege.
    I have to say tho, having had no dealings with private schls, the facilities, resources & opportunities are absolutely amazing. I was stunned. though that too makes me feel more uncomfortable.
    I am delighte din a way my son ha sthis opportunity but I feel bad the gulf is so vast betw state & private in terms of resourcing

  22. I went to a completely sh*t state school. We were streamed for the main subjects but people like me were bullied for being 'squares'. We weren't streamed for some lessons and in those the ones with any hope of getting a GCSE in the subject had extra lessons after school when the disruptive pupils (ie the majority) had gone home. Most of the teachers were dire because the good ones taught at the good schools. There were a handful of really good 'martyr' teachers who gave us their time and some of them were honestly my heroes, they helped me so much. I was miserable every day at my secondary school, I hated it and lost my confidence. I managed to get 8 GCSEs and went to a different school to sixth form and then a good uni so I caught up on the educational front. But I don't want my children to be as unhappy as I was and for that reason I will do my upmost to send to a good school, and pay for it if necessary. Even I have beans on toast every night because we're so poor after paying out the fees.

    Sorry for a rambling 'therapy' comment. You've touched a nerve! Best of luck with the decision you make, not all state schools are like mine was!

  23. I guess the question you have to answer is if you were to win the lottery would you then change where your children are going to school? Then you have an idea of how strong your woolly 'principles' are. Just a thought.

  24. NVG - that's the irony isn't it? I remember B's boss saying to him that the price differential for houses in and out of the catchment area of the good school near him was about the same as the difference in cost of paying for five years of private education...

    Paradise - Thank you. V interesting to be seeing it from the other side (state school background, child going to private school). I really hope your son settles into the new school and it allows him to thrive.

    Emily - thanks for the comment and hope the "therapy" helped! I'm sorry your schooling was so miserable and well done you for not letting it hold you back. I suppose, as others have said, it's all about the particular school isn't it? To define schools purely by their funding structure is perhaps to over-simplify.

    Anonymous - interesting question. Honest answer: I don't know. Practical answer: no, it wouldn't, because there aren't any private day schools within reach of us (which we hope means that the schools will be properly "comprehensive" and we won't as a result have all the problems that Katherine Barbalsingh experienced in her school), and we are absolutely resolutely on principle opposed to sending the girls boarding (we both boarded, and while neither of us hated it, neither of us wants it for our children), so even if we did win the lottery, unless we chose completely to move out of a town and a house we have already grown to love, we would still educate the children in the same schools.

    You have got us talking though - turns out that for B it's much less a matter of principle than a rational decision; and that's got me thinking too.... hmmm.

  25. I have never been so happy. Never ever did I think that I could find a spell caster to help me fix any problems. is the answer to all my problem no body pay me to say this Dr Sango has amazed me as I have seen results from everything he has done for me, often quite fast. While I have been to other spell casters who I believe tried their best; Dr Sango prayed for me simply is the best, being truly gifted and having written the book on it. In addition, his integrity truly sets him apart in the field as he has told me several times I did not need a spell when he just as easily could have said I did. He is a truly kind and generous person who took time out on a weekend recently to help with a difficult ongoing case for me which brought him no personal gain. His work resulted in an all out miracle with a man I have been in love with for two years’ Everyone. i so much believe in this man

  26. I never believed in love spells or magic until I met this spell caster once when i went to see my friend in Indian this year on a business summit. I meant a man who's name is Dr ATILA he is really powerful and could help cast spells to bring back one's gone, lost, misbehaving lover and magic money spell or spell for a good job or luck spell .I'm now happy & a living testimony cos the man i had wanted to marry left me 5 weeks before our wedding and my life was upside down cos our relationship has been on for 3years. I really loved him, but his mother was against us and he had no good paying job. So when i met this spell caster, i told him what happened and explained the situation of things to him. At first i was undecided,skeptical and doubtful, but i just gave it a try. And in 7 days when i returned to Canada, my boyfriend (now husband) called me by himself and came to me apologizing that everything had been settled with his mom and family and he got a new job interview so we should get married. I didn't believe it cos the spell caster only asked for my name and my boyfriends name and all i wanted him to do. Well we are happily married now and we are expecting our little kid, and my husband also got the new job and our lives became much better. His email is

  27. I lost my 6 years marriage during June. My husband left me with so many pains and since then i have been heart broken and shattered. I have contact 9 spell casters and 9 of them has rip me off my money without any result. I have emailed so many sites online looking for a good spell caster till i was directed by a 32 years old woman to WISE INDIVIDUAL SPELL At first i never believed him because he was requesting for some amount of money to buy items, it took him two weeks to convince me and something occur to mind and i said let me give him a trial.I was very shocked when Jeff called three days after i sent Dr Zack Balo the items money. He apologies for all he has done wrong and i am very happy that we are together today because he proposed to me last night. I will advise you contact Email:


  28. Do you want your Ex back after a divorce

    My name is Frank Morrison, my family and i live in London Uk.It was after seven years i got to discover that my wife was unfaithful to me.I didn't know what was going on at first but as she got deep in the affair with her new lover, i felt that our marriage was on the rocks.I notice that she no longer light up when i touch her or kiss her in her neck and her chest cos she really liked it when i did that, she also usually get naked in front of me but when she started seeing that guy she stopped it.I remember asking her if i have done anything that makes her feel irritated when i am around her then she gives silly excuses that she has been feeling stressed up and that she need space for a while.I know when you are been asked for space its usually because there is something fishy is going on.I hired a private investigator to help find out what was going on.And in a week time he brought me prove that my wife that i have lived with for seven straight year is cheating on me with her high school lover.I had picture of her walking out a of a restaurant with him and many other photo of them kissing in public like she will never be caught by someone that knows she is my wife.I asked myself, even when we had a daughter together she could this to me.That same night i showed her the pictures that i got from my private investigator.She didn't look at it before saying, that she is seeing someone and she know that i just found out about it.Then she said that she is in love with him.At that moment, i didn't know if to kill myself or to kill her but the button line is that if i was going to kill anyone it was going to be me cos i was so much in love with her to even think of thinking to hurt her.As time when on she asked for a divorce and got it and even got custody of our daughter and i was all alone by myself.For a year i tried all i could to get her back with the help of my seven year old daughter.Even at that all effect was in vain, i used the help of her friend but turned out all bad.I know most people don't believe in spell casting but believe me this was my last option and the result i most say was impressive.And i know it difficult to believe but A SPELL CASTER Dr brave really made my life much better cos he gave me my family back.He didn't ask me to pay for what he did for me all i was to do, was to provide the materials for the spell and believe that he had the power to help me.Like he said, he was going to do something that will make her reset her love and affection for me just as it has always been.My wife told me she woke up and realized that she should have never left me that i am all she needs.To make thing clear, her life with her high school lover was great before Dr brave castled the spell they had no disagreement on anything.The guy said it himself that why she broke up with him is unexplainable.Only Dr brave can do such a thing contact him to solve your problem with his CONTACT HIM NOW FOR SOLUTION TO ALL YOUR PROBLEMS.


I know. I'm sorry. I hate these word recognition, are you a robot, guff things too, but having just got rid of a large number of ungrammatical and poorly spelt adverts for all sorts of things I don't want, and especially don't want on my blog, I'm hoping that this will mean that only lovely people, of the actually a person variety, will comment.

So please do. Comments are great...