Parental Choice

Whatever happened to parental choice? This week I have been watching the debate at the HMC Conference (Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference) with interest as its chairman Dr Tim Hands hit back at private education detractors who, he claims, have turned parents into effective ‘social lepers’ for choosing the independent path.

Dr Hands is right when he says that it is ‘illogical’  for parents to be criticised for paying for an independent education for their child or children when it was deemed acceptable for them to buy an expensive home next to a top state school to secure a place.

It is about time someone stood up to the hypocrites who criticise other parents for paying when they themselves have paid by subterfuge by buying a house in the catchment of an excellent state school or sanction those that have simply because ‘at least it is a state school’.

But let’s face it – when some of our top politicians past and present – only pay lip-service to the state sector themselves, no wonder we are straining to hear that chorus of disapproval!

Stand up Messrs Blair and Clegg and others of their ilk for ‘doing the right thing’ by sending their children to state school but not just any state school, of course – one of the most socially-exclusive schools in the UK – far more so than many independent schools – the London Oratory. They and others have just paid lip-service to the pro-state school and anti-independent school brigade by choosing a state school which, let us be blatant, might as well be a private school! And don’t even get me started on Nick Clegg, the ‘atheist’ and anti-faith school politician, and his choice of this Roman Catholic faith school.

Dr Hands’ speech came in the week the independent school sector faced yet further opposition from the Ofsted Chief Inspector of Schools Michael Wilshaw who criticised independent schools for ‘offering crumbs from the table to state schools’.

It has become fashionable in certain sectors of the establishment and the media to knock not just independent schools but also the parents who choose them.

Let’s be candid here – criticism is the last thing such parents should face. As other Heads of independent schools will know, many of the parents who choose to pay do so at great financial sacrifice to themselves because they believe education is the greatest gift they can give their child. These parents should not be attacked; they should be applauded. Parents have a right to choice – whether that is independent or state education – and whichever path they choose – they should be respected for that – well, perhaps unless they start to criticise the opposite camp!

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