Owen Jones | It’s not the school you go to that determines how well you do – it’s the class system, stupid
Is going to a private school a waste of money? Yep! Kids from the same professional (university educated parents, doing well etc) background do just as well in non-fee paying schools. The only way of improving education outcomes for the majority is reducing inequality – investing in early education and supports for those who cannot afford what those from homes with a professional background get by default.
Owen Jones outlines the case unequivocally here but the research is relevant to Ireland and its subsidized private school, class-prioritised education system.
What determines above all how well you do educationally? For most, that’s a fairly straightforward answer: it’s down to how good your school is. But the evidence doesn’t back it up. The massive educational divisions in our society can be explained – above all else – by rampant broader social and economic inequalities. It’s the class system, stupid.
A few months ago, educational campaigner Fiona Millar and I went to City of London School to argue for the abolition of private education. This elite school, which charges £13,000 in annual fees (or nearly-two-thirds the median pay packet), is not exactly home turf, you would think, but my argument was simple: your parents are wasting their money. Last year, an OECD report revealed that privately educated students in Britain did better overall (as you would expect), but those with the same backgrounds at state schools did better than them. Once you took into account the socio-economic background of pupils, state schools in the UK outperformed private schools by a considerable margin.
And the solution?
So how do we tackle educational inequalities? Above all, it means tackling broader inequalities: the stresses that poverty puts on some people’s lives; investing in good housing, with enough space to study; a good diet (through free school breakfasts and dinners, for example); and so on. It means addressing the early educational gap by investing in SureStart and nursery education. It also means promoting social mixing in schools: OECD research suggests that a better mix improves the results of the least well-off students without dragging down overall performance.
It’s worth emphasising too that Ireland has only had a “free” educational system for last 40 years.