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.