Is it wrong to send my son to a private school?

I went to a state school, a good one. I did well, passed all my exams and got to a good university. I always assumed my kids would go to a state school but now we have to pick a school for E I’m not so sure.

I was pregnant with E when we moved into this house in the middle of a big city to be close to work. The plan was we’d be here for three years or so, do up the house and then sell up and move out of town before E started school. Then the economy inconsiderately went into meltdown and now we’ll probably not be able to move for years. So suddenly schools have become an issue.

I was a bit worried as we do not live in an affluent area of the city and the schools don’t have great reputations but when I looked into it there was one primary school a couple of miles away that was getting pretty good results, another closer that wasn’t too bad either and worst comes to worst there was our local school which had pretty poor results but not awful. I was sure E would be ok for a few years.

Last year one of my neighbours put down these three schools as their first three choices for their daughter for last september. They went to the open days and filled in all the forms on time so as they live two doors away and like us have no other children in school I thought this might be a good indication of where E might get into. Imagine their surprise when not only did they not get their first choice but they didn’t get any of the schools they had listed. Their daughter was given a place several miles away in a pretty terrible area at a school they hadn’t even considered.

They tried to stay calm, told themselves it probably wasn’t all that bad and went to find out more about the school…and came back in tears. Apparently it was even worse than they expected. I won’t list all the issues they had but there were a lot of them not least of which was that the percentage of kids getting the expected level in their SATs was barely making it into double figures. They mulled it over for a couple of days and in the end they quickly sold their house and moved to another part of the city where they could get her into a school they were happy with.

So this leaves me with a conundrum. E’s nursery is attached to a really lovely private boys junior school. That wasn’t why we picked it (it was just the closest nice nursery to my office) but it does mean the we are guaranteed a place if we want it. I know E would be very happy there. Most of his friends will be staying on (the girls move over to a school up the road), its small, has impressive sports and music facilities and great academic results. Most importantly if I work full time, pay off our debts a bit slower and we cut right back on luxuries we can just about afford it.

But a private school just doesn’t sit comfortably with me. It’s not that I have a moral objection to them existing but my slightly left of centre politics is worried by the exodus of average middle class families from the state sector in areas like this. It feels like ‘rats leaving a sinking ship’ rather than trying to help to improve standards in our local schools. And anyway, aren’t private schools full of really posh people? Don’t they give kids a bit of a rose tinted view of real life? Should I be worried about it being too focussed on academics to the detriment of other areas?

Having said that I couldn’t send E to the school my neighbours were offered, there’s no way we could sell the house and move somewhere with better schools and I can’t see that we’re in a position to in any way ‘help’ our local schools so do I really have a choice?

What would you do? Should we be worried by the trend towards private education for middle class families? Can we actually do anything to help schools that don’t appear to be doing well? I realise this could be a contentious issue and I really hope I haven’t offended anyone. I’d love to hear your comments on this.

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3 responses to “Is it wrong to send my son to a private school?

  1. Hi Cat – Ethically, if you have leanings to the left, you haven’t got a leg to stand on, but I think you know this already. However, I totally understand your difficulties in making this decision. We too are left leaning and I feel lucky that we can’t afford to go private since the pain of the decision is taken away from us, I know I would be very tempted…. having said that, I also know that I would only be very tempted if we were loaded….. and I mean seriously loaded. If it’s marginal that you can afford it then I would definitely say, don’t do it. The expense is not just in the fees – the uniforms, school holidays etc all mount up and you will be under pressure to do these things…. also, prep school is cheap, cheap, cheap by comparisson to what comes next.
    I was educated privately – first at a very posh prep school, then a convent day school (we’re not catholic but it was the cheapest and best private day school in the area) and then I boarded at my father’s public school for A’levels. My parents put 4 of us through public school and crippled themselves to do it. For me, it was worth it – I got a fantastic education and I’m in no doubt it was a more rounded education than I’d’ve got at most (but not all) state sector schools – however, I’m not sure it was worth it from the point of view of my parents or my family. There is a lot you can do to get involved in your childrens’ education in the state sector – board of governors, PTA, offering time to help out etc. AND you can appeal any decision if your son doesn’t get in to the school you want him to go to. I would say, one of the most important things to consider will be whether you’ll be able to afford to continue with private education at secondary level….. once you’ve started it’s very difficult to get off the private education bandwaggon and, speaking from personal experience, the transition for myself and my sister from prep school to day school was extremely hard – we were teased and bullied for being posh. My sister then went on at A levels to one of the poshest girls schools in the country and hated it. The public school I went to for A levels was a total shambles and I had a brilliant time but had to retake my A levels to get into Uni – so paying for it doesn’t always mean the education is better. I could go on and on on this one…. sorry for the long ramble, but hope it helps somehow! F (PS I’m pretty political over on my blog too 😉

  2. Thanks for your comment. For me it’s not so much about wanting to send E to a private school as I do think they can be over rated but more about not wanting to send him to a couple of the state schools in our area which appear to be failing badly. I think we are going to apply for the state schools and hold a place at the private school until we know where he has been offered a place. Hedging my bets I’m afraid.

  3. whether you lean right or left, your choice to put your child in the best place for his safety and the quality of his education is most important. You accomplish nothing by enrolling him in a school where he will not get a chance to be all he can be. You can lean to the left and fight for better schools, but while you are waiting, don’t use your son to make a statement. If you can afford the little school by your house, by all means, go for it and good luck.

    I am hunting for interesting blogs as I am part of the A to Z challenge!

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