Tuesday 16 October 2007

End to Fee Paying Schools

I welcome Minister Hannafin's decision not to provide state funding for any further fee-paying schools. It is true that capping the supply of these schools while demand rises will drive prices up and enhance the elite status which these schools already enjoy. Since there are so few of these schools, however, the distortion which they apply to the principle of equal opportunity is very limited.

The consequences of an expansion of the system are far worse. If private schools were to become as widely used as private health insurance, then half of all students would attend them. This would result in a very stark and widespread divide between those who can afford private schooling and those who cannot. Every community in the country would have its own little enclave of snobbery.

Worse still, people all across the country would be struggling to get their children into these schools. In effect, the private fees would be an additional tax which you could pay for extra quality - if you could afford it that is.

Another factor would come into play. For a whole set of complex reasons, children from poor backgrounds get less support in the home for their studies. And they rarely get the opportunity for grinds. These children would be schooled in the public system. Clearly a two tier system would emerge. This would be morally wrong, economically wrong, and bad for communities.

A perplexing question is why the Education minister is blocking the emergence of a two tier system while her colleague in Health is pressing ahead with precisely such a system. Have we two governments or one?

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