Why the Parental contract matters

There is a lot of talk in the news at the moment in Britain about making state schools as good as private ones, and Michael Gove, the British secretary for education, has made it one of his missions to make this a reality.

So why it is that private school are usually so much better than state ones? I find that usually this debate focuses on very superficial things like the argument that ‘they have more money therefore they have better resources’. On the surface, of course, I do not disagree with this claim, but is this really why the students at private school achieve better on average than their state school counter parts? Personally I do not believe it is as simple as this.

I, as regular readers of this blog will know, did not go to a very good school – it was probably one of the worst in the country. It has since improved slightly, and my experience, I would argue, leads me to believe that the reason private schools do better has little to do with resources. My school, for instance, had some very good resources and facilities; I think it is more to do with attitude and parental involvement.

What do all private school children have in common? Their parents are paying for their education out of their own pocket. Now, we can just read this as a simple case of ‘because they can afford to pay for it, that is the only reason they do it’, but we all know this is not the case, as not all parents who can afford it actually send their children to private school. The significance of this decision lies in how much the parents value their children’s education. Of course, I am not saying that those who do not send their children to private schools do not value education but the ones that do, clearly do.

So why is this important? Well, education is not about going to school, learning for a few hours and then coming home. Education is a process, and it should be continuous in one’s life – when a child comes home they should continue to be educated by their parents. Now, that is not to say that the parents need to sit their children down and set them work (although your parents being able to help with your homework is always a bonus) but they should be talking to their children about things, about the world and about life.

Now, many may say it is very arrogant of me to presume that all private school parents do this and that state school ones do not. Of course there are exceptions, but it is clear that a parent that pays for their child’s education obviously wants the most out of it – or else why would they pay? There seems to be a very strong relationship in private schools between the parents, the teachers and the students. They expect a certain level of performance and discipline that is not always expected at state schools – it certainly was not at mine.

If you really want to make a state school as good as a private one, I think you have to get the parents involved and make sure that they understand their role in their child’s education – a parent should not be a passive observer but an active participant. I think in many ways I learnt more about the world from my parents than I did at school, it is obvious that all my interest in philosophy and politics came from my home life.

In this country we increasingly see education as something that schools and teachers ‘do’; we have forfeited our parental and societal responsibility to children’s education. If we do not have the teachers and the parents working towards the same goal then we are in fact fighting a losing battle. It was very obvious to me at school that the children whose parents took the most active role in their education usually succeeded. We need to make sure that our schools are forging relationships between staff and parents – much like charity, education should begin at home.

We need a state school system that involves parents more in their children’s education. If we endeavour to do so, then I truly believe that perhaps our state schools would achieve as well as our private ones – and if we do so, this could have profound implications on inequality in education.


10 thoughts on “Why the Parental contract matters

  1. Is there not also a phenomena of parents who are less involved in their children’s education…who can afford to…sending their children to private schools to make up for their failings? With a great number of private schools being boarding schools, how involved are they parents truly if they don’t even see their children once a week? Are they not simply paying for loco in parentis??

    • to be honest I think the focus of this piece is less about parents that send their children to private school being better than those that do not. This seems to be what you are focusing on, is it not? The real point I am trying to make is that the reason perhaps why private schools often do better is because there is that parents expect more of the teachers – if this could be the same in state schools then perhaps they would do better as well.

      I feel there is always a lot of focus on private schools resources being the reason they do better, I feel this is quite a naive way of looking at it – can we not accept that perhaps there are structural differences that could be implemented in the state sector without much extra cost such as encouraging stronger relationships between staff and parents – and if you do not believe this even happens in private schools then I do not think that really affects my argument – I still believe it would help.

  2. ‘Of course there are exceptions, but it is clear that a parent that pays for their child’s education obviously wants the most out of it – or else why would they pay?’

    Because it is the done thing? Having been to a private school I have no qualms in stating that for many parents of my peers it was class and/or tradition that drove them to give their kids a private education and not education. As Dylan William has noted, in terms of value added measures private schools are nothing special. But, in terms of privilege, generating a sense of entitlement and maintaining this country’s class system, well. it’s hard to fault them.

  3. p.s. I also knew plenty of parents, not just from my time at private school but also from university, who didn’t give much of a damn about their child and saw private education as a simple, unthinking and quick solution to the nuisance of raising them; parents who would rarely, if ever, spend time with their kids and talk to them about life and the world. Just because somebody throws money at something doesn’t mean they care about it, in fact, in some situations it’s indication that they really don’t.

    • I accept there may be large exceptions – this is not suppose to be an endorsement of private schools. What I am in fact saying is that parental expectations and involvement are important in a child’s education.

      Now perhaps, as you say, you do not think there is a great deal of difference between the state and the private sector. However, having been to a state school in which a lot of parents did not even turn up to parents evening one must wonder where the teachers are fighting a losing battle with children that have such disengaged parents.

      You may be right perhaps I am giving the private sector more credit than it deserves – but my point about parental involvement (the point of the piece) stands regardless – I am not part of a private school pressure group, i am unlikely to ever send my children to one, certainly not a boarding school, and for the reasons I mention, I believe it is detrimental to a child’s development to be away from their parents for so long. In that sense I do think boarding schools are not a good thing, and seeing as much of the cabinet went to them, that is certainly enough to put me off.

  4. As a general, and largely self-evident point, no one would argue with you about the importance of a parents’ commitment and involvement in their child’s education. But, that is not, in my opinion, how this article reads. Instead it seems to suggest that a) private schools are better than state schools, and b) of course this would be the case as parents who pay for their kids’ education would typically care more about it then those who don’t. Which, on both points, there is good grounds for disagreement. If your’e not arguing for both of these points, I don’t see what this article is getting at, apart from it’s good when parents care about their child’s education.

  5. Exhibit A ‘The significance of this decision lies in how much the parents value their children’s education. Of course, I am not saying that those who do not send their children to private schools do not value education but the ones that do, clearly do.’

    No, it is not clear. The decision to send your child to a private school can be born out of many reasons, not just a concern for a child’s education. For example, tradition, prejudice, class, lack of imagination, etc.

  6. I’d echo some of Klaus’ thoughts above – specifically that parents pay for commercial education for lots of reasons. A further thought is that the key to an academically successful school is often simply selection: it doesn’t matter whether parents have chosen to buy or rent a house because of its proximity to a particular school; jumped through the hoops to get into a faith school; moved from an urban area to a market town; coached a child (or paid for coaching) to get a place at an academically selective school; or simply paid to select.

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