Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ban private schools? - if private schools have little effect on life chances, why do you keep writing those big cheques?

I will pick out just one thing from your comments on my last post suggesting we ban private schools.

Here's a point from John (endorsed by potentilla):

"I still haven't seen the evidence that private schooling does prevent those who do not attend it from achieving their best - the over representation of privately schooled individuals in positions of power may well reflect parental values and ethos as much as opportunity - analogously, the largest 'contributor of offspring' to the Armed Forces are parents who themselves served in the Armed Forces; are we to believe that they are given an unfair advantage during recruitment and selection due to the background of their parents? Rather I would suggest the overwhelming reason that many serve is to continue the lifestyle to which they are accustomed, because they have been brought up to value the Armed Forces and they consider it a respectable career option. No doubt the values they have inderited from their parents do make them more It would be good to get some clarification. suitable to the Armed Forces - such social conditioning applies in all walks of life."

I don't deny other factors, such as parental values etc., play a role too in determining our choice of career and opportunities open to us.

However, it is clear, is it not, that the statistics revealing how the mere 7 percent who are privately educated come to dominate the high status professions strongly suggest that private education has a powerful effect when it comes to enhancing the life chances of those lucky few?

It would be good to get some clarification. Are you suggesting, John, that, really, private eduction has little to do with the way privately educated children dominate the top professions? It's mostly explained by other factors, like sons of lawyers wanting to be lawyers, daughters of Oxbridge graduates aspiring to follow their mothers, etc.? That does seem to be your point.

It would be odd if it turned out those of you who are putting such effort, and very considerable quantities of money, into privately educating your children - many of you stress the sacrifices you make to write those big cheques - actually think it has comparatively little effect on their life chances.

The fact that you are putting such a large investment into the private education system indicates to me that deep down you do believe this investment does significantly boosts the life chances of your kids. Otherwise why make it?

And by significantly boosting your own kids' life chances, you do inevitably restrict the life chances of other kids.

John, is your response to this last point in effect: "Ah, but most other kids don't really aspire to be doctors, lawyers, top military leaders, etc, so you see? - we are not preventing them from achieving their best." It does seem to be.

P.S. On a different point: my analogy with private universities is good, I think. I'll respond to your objections shortly.

P.P.S. Incidentally, it's interesting John mentions the armed forces as they are notoriously class ridden - especially the army. 9 out of the top 10 military people went to private schools.

14 comments:

Joe Otten said...

I don't see how it is possible to disentangle all the different components that make up the advantage of the privately educated.

However, I think there is much to be said for the argument that the best thing the parents are buying is the peer group. It's not what you know, but who you know.

Now the thing is that the same people are making the peer group as attractive as it is. Perhaps they are being ripped off by having to buy something that is the product of their own contribution.

Perhaps if private schools were banned, the same peer group could be had for free - at public expense - under our selective-by-house-price system.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only person who finds the idea of choosing a career based on what your parents did/do for a living ridiculous. I don't doubt for a second that the children of lawyers might well have a higher than normal probability of become lawyers but then being a lawyer is a very well paid (if not obscenely overpaid) proffession. One of the top jobs that we are discussing. I would argue that this might have something to do with the fact that these kids can see first hand the benefits of being a lawyer.

I would find it very hard to believe that young children aspire to pack boxes on the end of a conveyor belt for forty years because their parents did.

While I doubt that banning private schools would ultimately have much efect on who gets the best jobs, I think we should ban them anyway. Why make it easy..but then I am probably just bitter because I'm poor. :)

John said...

Stephen,

I don't deny other factors, such as parental values etc., play a role too in determining our choice of career and opportunities open to us.

Well that's good - because it did appear to me that you were elevating attendance at private school to the status of "only significant factor".

Are you suggesting, John, that, really, private education has little to do with the way privately educated children dominate the top professions?

Of course not. Nor will you find such a thing said in any of my comments - I am merely asking you to demonstrate that lack of private schooling prevents the rest of us from achieving our best.

I am making no claim of my own - I am asking you to substantiate yours.

many of you stress the sacrifices you make to write those big cheques

Stephen, you are bordering, once again, on making unwarranted assumptions. I don't think anyone here has indicated that they privately school their children, or even that they are the beneficiaries of a private education. For clarity - I don't and am not.

John, is your response to this last point in effect: "Ah, but most other kids don't really aspire to be doctors, lawyers, top military leaders, etc, so you see? - we are not preventing them from achieving their best."

In a competitive market any advantage conferred on an individual will increase their chance of success relative to their peers, and by definition decrease the chance of success of the competition. However, you consistently fail to demonstrate how such an advantage prevents the competition from achieving success, as opposed to providing additional obstacles to success, a far less controversial claim which I think no one here would argue with.

Now as to the social conditioning - is it your claim that children never have the desire or encouragement to follow in the footsteps of their parents? Of course not - that would be absurd. I know you recognise it as a factor, so please stop making straw men out of my criticisms of your position.

Incidentally, it's interesting John mentions the armed forces as they are notoriously class ridden - especially the army. 9 out of the top 10 military people went to private schools.

Not merely interesting, but intentional. I was of course making the general point about the armed forces that entry to the profession is highly egalitarian, yet we see an over-representation of the children of service personnel who are themselves serving. This occurs at all levels of service - not merely amongst officers.

On the more specific point of the army, and why it is 'class ridden' I should be interested in your source for the claim "9 out of the top 10 military people went to private schools". I suspect you may be right - but I know I couldn't find the biographies of the Executive Committee of the Army Board (except CGS and AG) online.

There was some interesting research done by Prof Reggie Von Zugbach of Paisley University (his book, out of print I am afraid: Power and Prestige in the British Army) which certainly showed that 'public schoolboys' are over-represented at the highest levels of command (the research is a little dated, but probably still applies). However, he fails to provide an analysis of why such an over-representation occurs. Informal conversations and research with colleagues leads me to the conclusion that whilst recruitment and selection for promotion (at all levels) is carried out scrupulously fairly, there is a selective bias (towards publicly schooled officers) at regimental level in some regiments very early on in an officer's career, which gives them the advantage of acquiring the experience required for the top jobs.

There is, however, another relevant factor. The army is very much a family organisation. Fathers and sons (and rarely, daughters) can be found serving in the same regiment. Often service in the same small regiment or battalion can be traced back several generations. Since one condition of service is frequent dislocation, the armed services offer subsidised places at public schools in order to provide continuity of education. This means that a far larger portion of the children of members of the armed services, who themselves later go on to serve, are educated privately than would otherwise be the case. A selective bias then, if there truly is one, may well be to favour nth-generation officers over new-entrant civilians, rather than privately educated officers per se.

Now I have rather got off topic - but I remain interested in how you will deal with private tutoring, whether you can substantiate the claim that a level playing field can be provided for those young children whose parents can't or won't provide additional help with reading at home and why a more meritocratic primary and secondary education would not achieve the same (or better) results without restricting freedoms.

John said...

And, for those who are interested:

Extracts from the summary of "THE BRITISH GENERALS AND THE OLD SCHOOL TIE" (pub 1999)*

Gradually, since the Seventies, the direct grant HMC grammar schools have had their supply of working class pupils cut off and the state grammar schools have been abolished. With them have gone the CCFs. As we show elsewhere, (9) in relation to ethnic minority recruiting, the Army's officer corps is not considered as a natural career choice for many groups in society who do not have knowledge derived from their background of social class or parental occupation. Not only have the opportunities to acquire this knowledge been cut off to some social groups but many are actively denied the means of acquiring it. Few comprehensive schools have retained their CCFs and those that have often find opposition from members of staff. Further, some local education authorities actively prohibit access to their schools and colleges for service recruiting personnel(10). On two consecutive days, one of the authors visited the CCFs of an HMC school and a state comprehensive school as an inspecting officer. The HMC school paraded the voluntary corps - most of the school. The officers and boy NCOs held a regimental luncheon and a native Gurkha officer and his team gave a presentation about their regiment. At the comprehensive school, the inspecting officer was asked not to wear uniform as this would 'upset' some of the staff.

A major determinant of career choice is paternal occupation. This has been shown to be true of the Church, the Law, the Civil Service and management (11). A study of Sandhurst cadets between 1973 and 1976 showed that at least 31% could be identified as the sons of serving soldiers of all ranks, or of retired officers (12). Because of their occupational mobility, service personnel often send their children to boarding schools for which they receive an allowance. Thus, a high percentage of the sons and daughters of all service ranks attend HMC schools and go from these to a career in the Army.

It must be agreed that the criticisms made of the eliteness of the Army's leadership have a prima facie validity. But to a large extent, they show themselves to be both ill informed and even ill motivated. The elite nature of the background of senior Army officers is very similar to that of the leadership of other professions and compared with the Church and the Law it is less elite (13). As we have shown, the changes in the composition of the senior ranks cannot be effected immediately. It takes thirty years for a cadet to become a general.

But lastly, changes to the British educational system and the policies of those who administer that system have contributed to a potential reversal of the trend towards a more representative officer corps. Often, it is the very people who are critical of the Army's elite make up are those who would drive officer recruiting back into the grip of the "old school tie".


*Unfortunately I do not have access to the full text and cannot provide references

Stephen Law said...

Hello John

I think maybe you are a late-comer to this debate (and thus not the John who contributed earlier) as you seem to have missed that (i) some of you have indeed said you do privately educate your kids, and (ii) that I did earlier say that private education was just not only factor determining life chances - though I do think it a very significant one (and apparently so do those of you paying a great deal of money for it).

I notice you keep saying I am making a claim about private education "preventing" (i.e. making it completely impossible for) other kids from achieving their best. You add that I am mistaken because the *possibility* of them doing so is still there, even if the *probability* of them doing so has been significantly reduced by the private education system!

But I don't remember using that word "prevent". Did I use it? Certainly not with that intended meaning. I thought I said private ed has a powerful negative impact on the life chances of other kids.

So by attacking my claim that private ed "prevents" etc., you are attacking a straw man, it seems.

Are you denying private education has a powerful negative impact on the life chances of other kids? Seems not. We can agree on that point, then, can't we?

potentilla said...

In haste; just to clarify one point about this "prevent" issue. Getting a well-paid and influential job is not a zero-sum game. There is not a certain fixed number of "top jobs" to be competed for. True, there is a fixed number of MPs, but MPs are neither very well-paid nor particularly influential on average. In the private sector, there is nothing restraining the number of "top jobs".

I don't have time right now to go back and check on what Stephen was defining as "the high-status professions" to take a view about whether this is a source of confusion in the discussion.

FWIW, I don't have any children, and my parents paid not a penny for my own formal education apart from contributing to my maintenance grant at university.

John said...

I think maybe you are a late-comer to this debate (and thus not the John who contributed earlier)

No - that was me - I just missed out the middle of the debate (somewhat embarrased about my earlier contribution) Apologies if I have missed someone stating that they do privately educated their children, and also if I have misrepresented your position.

But I don't remember using that word "prevent". Did I use it? Certainly not with that intended meaning.

Well, in fact I quoted your use of it in my reply to one of your previous posts, and even emboldened it for ease of reference. However, I accept that I may have inferred too much from your use of the word.

You add that I am mistaken because the *possibility* of them doing so is still there, even if the *probability* of them doing so has been significantly reduced by the private education system!

Yes - and it all hinges on the degree to which which their life chances are impeded. Can you in any meaningful way quantify the 'significant reduction' in their chances?

How much did a lack of private education impede your own success?

Are you denying private education has a powerful negative impact on the life chances of other kids? Seems not. We can agree on that point, then, can't we?

We can agree that it may have a negative impact - I just don't know how much. Potentilla makes the fair point that it is not a zero sum game - which answers your question "why do you keep writing those cheques" without conceding that the non-privately educated suffer a (significant) disadvantage.

It would be stretching a point to claim their is no negative impact - I'm sure there is. I think it is equally stretching a point to argue the impact is so significant as to justify banning private schooling.

Stephen Law said...

Hello again. Perhaps I have a mistaken impression of how many of you privately educated your kids (or were privately educated yourselves. Theree of you made it explicit:

Scott: "I am a barrister; I work long hours so I can afford to give my children a good education"

Cagliost “I was privately educated”

Georges: “My two children both go to private schools”.

I was guessing there were probably quite a few more (though I didn't think it was most of you). I might be wrong though...

John said...

I wrote:

Well, in fact I quoted your use of it in my reply to one of your previous posts, and even emboldened it for ease of reference. However, I accept that I may have inferred too much from your use of the word.

Oops again!

I had a look back and I think I may have introduced the word 'prevent' after all!

Sorry again Stephen.

Scott said...

Would it be possible for you to answer these questions please? (If they already have been in previous posts I apologise, the topics been going on some time.)

Are you against the fact the 7% come from Private School backgrounds AND the fact most of these people come from a "higher class" OR are we not so interested in this "higher" or "better connected" class issue?

Would a child from a working class background that has somehow managed to have a private education receive the same consideration a privately educated child from a "higher" class, in your eyes Stephen?

If the answer is they would receive a more amiable viewing, then I wonder if the problem lies in the class, not so much with how they educate their children?

I would keep in mind that better education for state schools could only help to offset this favouritism, if this is indeed how you answer.

Oh and just to clarify, I am unfortunately not a barrister, that was just an example, I believe I even had "take this instance; " in there. Sorry for the ambiguity of the previous post, but thanks for reading. There's not many professionals prepared to question and answer in such a way.

Stephen Law said...

oops - sorry Scott.

And no worries, John. You have at least given me opportunity to spell out my position more clearly - I obviously left room for misunderstanding.

Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Joe said "
Perhaps if private schools were banned, the same peer group could be had for free - at public expense - under our selective-by-house-price system.


Very probably, and thus the exclusivity inherent within the private school system would not necessarily be undone; all that would really be achieved is to force the tax payer to subsidise it.

If private schools outperform public schools, one possible reason is the disproportionate effects of government standards on the one versus the other. Private schools have a strong economic incentive to appeal to both exam grade statistics and, arguably more importantly, the status of their alumni. The point being that exam statistics are easy to fudge, whereas the successes and failures of your ex-pupils post schooling is not.

So where public schools are given a strong incentive to water down core subjects, or replace them with less challenging subjects in order to appease government benchmarks, private schools are still called upon to prove that the education they provide will actually have market value in the workforce.

The correct sequence of events is to repair the public education system first, and then talk about ways to close the class gap. There's simply insufficient evidence that the public education system, which private school-supporting parents are still paying for, is going to be markedly improved across the board simply by removing the private education system.

girl-interrupted said...

Private schools don't make a difference to education. They just want more money. And people send there kids to them thinking they'll get a better education. And in public schools you tend to get a "rougher" crowd of kids. Not always true.

r.b.m said...

However, my objection did, in both cases, rest on an assumption - that the children of those 7 percent who dominate the high status professions do not, in fact, have greater native wit and talent. I've been assuming that native wit and talent is distributed fairly evenly across the social classes.

Isn't there another assumption that you've been making? That the 7 % who go to Independent schools are from a specific social class and fall within a particular economic bracket. Certainly many of the schools at the top of the independent schools league table require children to gain access by virtue of demonstrating academic ability / potential and then financially supporting (often to a very large degree I undertand) those who cannot afford the fees charged. What specific empirical data do you have to show that the oft-cited 7% come from such a very narrow socio-economic background?