In the face of economic headwinds and societal changes post-pandemic, are independent schools still a worthwhile investment?
Independent schools are facing many headwinds following the pandemic, with economic uncertainty, rising costs and priorities such as good mental health, inclusion and sustainability – including the 20 per cent VAT proposals by Labour.
The debate around independent schools and their existence is intensified by proposals like the 20 per cent VAT by Labour, raising questions about their contribution to education and society.
If we banned independent schools, should we also prevent people from eating cheeseburgers, flying on an aeroplane or using a mobile phone during bedtime?
Obviously, the word ‘ban’ is a strong word. Some of us love eating cheeseburgers, and some of us don’t. Some people fly overseas every year on holiday, polluting the environment in exchange for some sunshine. Others may have a rule never to use a mobile phone at bedtime, whereas others may be fixated on their devices until the early hours.
The need for a wider perspective
When we talk about banning independent schools or at least challenging the status quo for the most privileged, the main objective from those that call for change is to reduce inequality across society in some shape or form. I have been here too, but I have changed.
The challenge for our society is that it is full of people wanting many different things. Therefore, we should always strive for a happier society that provides something for everyone without making things worse for everyone else.
I want to provide you with a snapshot of independent schools drawing upon a vital research document – equivalent to the Teacher Workforce Census from the Department for Education – which provides a state of the nation overview of independent schools across the UK.
How do independent schools contribute to UK society?
Look at the Independent Schools Council Report 2023, which shows how well our independent schools are doing when considering their contributions to society.
- Figure 1 – the most common school structures in terms of the range of year groups
- Figure 2 – pupil numbers since 1990; increasing year on year
- Figure 3 – the number of single-sex schools is low in comparison to others
- Figure 4 – ethnicity representation is now at 40 per cent
- Figure 5 – percentage of boarders is relatively low
- Figure 6 – location of boarders; largely in South Central England
- Figure 7 – average day/boarding fees is lower than state school funding!
- Figure 8 – there are ~2,600 schools across the UK; 50 per cent have fewer than 300 students.
Having been a pupil in the state school system and a teacher working in several state schools for 25 years, I grew up around all the media hype about independent schools.
I’ve challenged my biases about what independent schools contribute to our society, and this continues to be shaped by my experiences working directly with them in my teacher training sessions.
Should we ban independent schools? Absolutely not!