In education, as in life in general, you tend to get what you pay for. Sometimes you get lucky and snap up a real bargain or find something that genuinely represents good value for money. Most of the time, however, the lower the price, the lower the quality and if you get offered something for nothing, your expectations are likely to be quite low.
There are many, many excellent free state schools throughout the country in which excellent head teachers and dedicated staff give their all to help their pupils to be all that they can be. At the same time, there are undoubtedly many expensive private schools where pupils underperform and which ultimately represent poor value for money.
The key difference between the two is that private schools are market driven. While a poorly performing state school may result in government intervention, a private school is essentially a business and if it fails to deliver then parents will simply take their children elsewhere. Pupils at private schools get better results not simply because they get a better education, but because the school would soon cease to exist if this was not the case.
An Easier Path
The advantages seem clear: children who have been privately educated are four times more likely to get straight As at A-level and are more than three times more likely to go to university. Although only seven per cent of the population attend private school, around half the pupils accepted at Oxford and Cambridge each year have been educated in this way.
There is also evidence that former private-school pupils have an easier path when it comes to reaching the upper levels of society. Three out of four judges, around a third of chief executives of FTSE 100 companies and a third of all members of Parliament - both Labour and Conservative - attended private school.
Although state schools receive a good level of funding, a private school will often have more money available to pay for IT equipment, labfurniture and sports facilities. The fact that private schools have much smaller class sizes - up to 20 but usually far fewer, compared to up to 40 in a state school - means the pupils usually get far more individual attention.
Private schools tend to have far fewer discipline problems than those in the state sector. This is also because, to varying degrees, such schools are able to pick and choose which pupils they allow to enrol. Anyone clearly disruptive or too far behind academically is unlikely to be admitted.
Private schools have proved themselves to be somewhat recession proof. The tough economic times have help parents to focus on what is most important for their children and education is often at the top of the list. Parents associate better education with more options and feel that by investing in their children, they will become immune to the effects of any future slump.
Every parent wants the best for their child and even if you don't actually pay fees, schooling often has a host of financial implications. In a bid to get their children into the best state school, parents have moved home or even rented a second property within the catchment area in order to qualify.
While the exams taken in both types of school may be the same, the attitude of society towards former pupils is different. Until this changes, private schools will continue to have the upper hand - but only for those who can afford them.