The Ofsted chief needs a reality check when it comes to private schools

In an article in the Telegraph, 24/06/13, Laura Perrins argues that we cannot ask parents who send their children to private schools to effectively subsidise the education of state pupils – as Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw demanded last week instead suggesting a new voucher scheme for state children to use in independent schools.

On Friday Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted and the man who worked miracles in Mossbourne academy in London, demanded that independent schools fulfil their moral "duty" to the rest of society by allowing state pupils to attend their classes, use their sports facilities and receive coaching for Oxbridge interviews. He said private schools are "marooned on an island of privilege" and posed the question: do parents really want their children going to a school that "does not reach out to the mainland"?

Well, yes they do, Sir Michael. And that is why they are paying up to £30,000 a year for the privilege.

Sir Michael posed two questions “What does it take to put two children from the comprehensive down the road into science classes at an independent school? and “What does it take for the coaching and support for applications to our most prestigious universities to be spread more widely?”

Well, what it would take, is for parents who pay for their kids to attend private school to accept the fact that they would be subsidising the private education of another child. This is neither moral nor fair. They will have already paid a significant amount in tax for a state education they do not even use.

There are already scholarships and arguably these could be expanded. But many families make serious sacrifices to send their child to private school such as forsaking family holidays, cars, a better house; some even sacrifice having a second child for goodness' sake.

We cannot ask parents to essentially fund other people’s children to receive the education that they have made serious sacrifices to give their own child – including in some cases, another living human being in the form of a sibling.

Even the idea of throwing in a couple of science students into the class (he makes it sound so casual) already impacts on the quality of education because you have increased the class size and small class sizes are one of the key advantages of a private education.

On a personal note, we decided to send our young daughter Annabelle to a local state faith school and have two children. We did this because we thought this was in the best interests of our children. But I do not think this makes me morally superior to another parent who may well have sacrificed having a sibling for their only child to go private. We are both doing what we think is best for our child – we just disagree on what that is.

I never understood these parents who send their children to state school because they disagree with private school "in principle" (although you will find they can afford to live in an expensive area that is in the catchment for a good state school). Sacrificing your child's best interests on the alter of political dogma is not an attractive idea to me.

Sure, look into the charitable status of private schools if you must, or even better, offer a voucher scheme to the cost of a state education which every parent can use in private school, but do not expect parents to perform some Herculean charitable task of funding another child's private education.

Reality check please: we are dealing with human nature. Let’s stop targeting private schools and concentrate instead on improving state schools by adopting an uncompromising approach to discipline and having a content-rich curriculum. Sir Michael has the experience that shows he is the best man for the job. He must now prove it.

Click here to read the article © The Telegraph.