The cost of private education is now at such a level that some parents, particularly those with more than one child, are beginning to consider how and when it is best to invest and when it might make sense to consider state school options instead.
Combining private and state education at different ages is becoming more common place and often makes good financial sense. There are many parents for whom finding the cash to pay school fees is not easy, choosing to forgo annual holidays abroad, expensive cars and the latest technological gadgets in order to invest in their children’s future, through giving them the best education.
There is no one answer fits all to the question of whether private education is for you. State and independent provision can vary significantly depending on where you live and the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of individual children mean that each one needs careful consideration as to what might be the best option for them personally.
Parents usually make the choice of private education for three reasons.
- The ‘best’ state schools in the area are academically selective and parents are unhappy with the alternative, if their child does not gain entry.
- There is a need for additional support for an educational reason such as dyslexia, EAL, gifted or a particular interest such as music, and parents feel their state school option is not equipped to deliver this support.
- Both parents work full-time, so have less time available to offer supplementary provision at home.
With the above in mind, here are 10 tips in how to evaluate if private or state education suits you.
- Speaking to other parents about local schools will help, but remember their views, although passionate and enthusiastic, are not independent and a variety of opinions around the dinner party table can often confuse. Speak to an independent education consultant, read independent reviews in publications such as The Good Schools Guide and read the schools’ latest Ofsted or ISI report. You will usually find these on the school website.
- Ask yourself how involved you want to be in supporting and supplementing your child’s education. Choosing a state school will sometimes mean devoting significant time to your child’s learning or extra-curricular activities outside school, helping with homework, perhaps even employing a tutor for some extra tuition in Maths or English. You might want them to learn extra subjects such as French or Latin. This support is usually an inclusive part of the academic provision at a private school,where smaller class sizes and more specialist subject teachers make more individual attention and a wider curriculum possible.
- Consider whether you have the time to organise and provide transport for a busy programme of extra-curricular activities, such as attending coaching sessions at local sports clubs, piano or ballet lessons outside school. Invariably, the majority of the above will be provided within a private school’s holistic approach to education, with longer school days providing opportunity for an inclusive activity programme. Your role will be more one of watching school concerts and plays or cheering loudly from the side lines at school matches.
- Do both parents work? State school working days tend to be shorter than those at a private school meaning more childcare may be needed.
- Do you want to get up early on Saturday mornings for the school run? Many private schools have Saturday morning lessons, particularly those which offer boarding. There will also be a busy programme of school matches on Saturday afternoons which you will need to commit to. Longer holidays compensate for this, but the commitment of 6 days a week in term-time does not suit all families.
- It is not always necessary for siblings to follow the same path through education. A shy child may need to build their confidence through the small, nurturing environment of a private school, while a sibling may be out-going and confident, so attending the right state school may suit them just as well.
- Do you suspect that your child might have a particular weakness or struggles with their learning in some way? Investing in a private school may mean that issues such as dyslexia may be identified earlier than in a state school, where class sizes are larger. Consequently the correct support with their learning can be provided at an earlier stage, to ensure they progress alongside their peers.
- Good state schools are often competitive in terms of entry criteria and the academic educational programme they deliver. Will such a competitive environment, which focuses mainly on academic achievement, suit your child? If your child is self-motivated, confident and bright, the answer is probably yes. If they lack confidence, they may struggle to settle.
- If your child just scrapes into an academically selective state school, by being tutored to pass the 11+ and consequently makes set 7 or 8 for Maths and English, what will this do for their confidence and how will you monitor and address this? Consider if it might be better to be at the top of a less academic state or private school and hence gain confidence as a high achiever?
- Some parents move from state education to private education or vice versa when their child reaches 16+. There are opportunities to gain scholarships for entry to a private school at sixth form, especially if your child has done well at grammar/state school for the preceding 5 years. On the flip side, some believe that moving from private into state education for sixth from may make gaining a place at university easier, although this theory is to date unproven. Care must be taken to ensure that your teenager will cope with such a transition into a learning environment with different teaching styles, as they need to hit the ground running with only 2 years to gain top grades at this stage of education.
The author of this article is Catherine Stoker, Owner and Director of The Independent Education Consultants. For details of how their team of experts can support you in evaluating your local school choices, please visit their website.