British private schools are known around the world for their outstanding performances in school league tables and their alumni include prime ministers, successful actors, and comedians such as Michael Mclntyre and Riz Ahmed — both of whom attended the prestigious Merchant Taylors’ School in North London.
Recently, I have been seeing posters outside tube stations advertising private schools which had got me thinking about my own experience and the advice I could give to parents if they’re thinking of sending their children to one. In one photo a boy is holding a cricket bat and looking deeply into his dream future, while the others show happy school kids looking neat and tidy in their uniforms with smiley faces ready to take an algebra exam.
Private schools are known to have more on offer than state-funded schools. Children do more of nearly everything, including sports, with lacrosse and polo being on offer. Your child could even learn older languages, such as Latin or Sanskrit, if you wanted to get proper fancy. If you happen to attend a private religious school, then you’re really in for a treat when it comes to certain rules and regulations. I myself attended an international private school in London for three years, which was a very interesting part of my life and gave me the opportunity to meet young people from different countries and learn more about various global issues. Even though I had my ups and downs, it was a good experience, which I am glad to have had.
Reasons to attend
There can be many positives to attending a private school. One popular thought is that single-sex schools are less distracting (unless you happen to be LGBT of course, but that’s for a different article). Every parent naturally worries that their child will face many distractions in school, which is why attending a single-sex private school will lessen that worry given that there are fewer opportunities to meet with the opposite sex — until certain events at least, such as the Year 11 prom. Classroom sizes are another point, which are usually smaller and allow teachers more time to tend to the students’ particular needs.
Of course, money is a key factor and if it is a concern then there are many private schools which provide scholarships and bursary programmes for gifted and academically advanced children. A few years ago, the Telegraph wrote an article giving tips on how to get a bursary, and one of them was to make sure you ‘get in early’ as bursaries are in demand and hard to come by, so applying one to two years in advance is usually advised. Another interesting tip on the list was to ‘think boarding’ as some boarding schools can be a cheaper alternative, costing between £8,000-£12,000 per year. Boarding allows the child to develop greater focus, independence and be better at observing the rules.
Moreover, from a very early age the child is prepared for applying to the top universities, such as Oxbridge (which I know from a family friend), and generally have better skills when it comes to getting the top jobs. For these reasons, parents are more inclined to get involved in their child’s curriculum and support them, knowing full well the potential benefits that come with the high fees.
For my part, the aspects I liked best about being in a private school was the possibility for teachers to delve deeper into a subject. My English teacher for instance, frequently went beyond the required subject guidelines, discussing their life experiences and relating them to the lesson. To this day, I am grateful for this and remember my lessons with that specific teacher. They made me into a more rounded individual that is able to question things instead of taking them at face value.
Reasons not to attend
Pressure to achieve is certainly one reason against being in a private school. Some parents place an enormous amount of pressure on their child to get high grades given the financial strain placed on them. Students can also feel out of place, especially if they go somewhere like Eton which is a very different kind of environment to be in. For many, the experience can be too daunting if they are not able to fit into the community and make friends easily.
A further problem area may arise is if a child has attended a private school all their life and goes to a top university but still doesn’t get a ‘good’ job. This can cause emotional distress for both them and their parents, with both parties feeling that the money has been wasted.
Lastly, children may fail to learn how to mix well with different social classes. Attending a state or grammar school can often teach you better people skills than a private school. Some private school graduates can experience communication difficulties when they join the working world.
Comment from a pupil attending an all-girls private school:
‘Some people have the cliché in their head of what it is like to attend a private school. From my experience, it is not all glitz and glamour and you may not feel any different if you did not attend a private school. I did feel pressure to do well but I feel proud of the school I attended. I loved the community feel, which I may not have got from a big institution’.
(The schools that were advertised outside Finchley Central tube station were Merchant Taylors’ School in Northwood and UCS in Hampstead.)