It’s a dilemma that many parents face. Should they spend the money and send their child to a Private School? Or is going down the Grammar School route a better option?
Which selective school system?
Of course, much depends on where you live. If you live in London or other big cities such as Birmingham or Brighton, finding a Grammar School in your area may be very difficult, if not impossible. Both Wales and Scotland also got rid of all their Grammar Schools some time ago.
However, if you live in Kent, Buckinghamshire or Lincolnshire chances are there’s a good Grammar School nearby. And in Northern Ireland too. Today there are around 163 Grammar Schools in England and a further 67 in Northern Ireland.
For fans of Grammar Schools, there’s some good news too. The Government is proposing a £200 million investment over four years to expand 16 existing Grammar Schools. It promises this will open up much greater access to pupils in more deprived areas.
You can see the full list of the schools that are expanding here.
Putting Grammar first
Obviously, there is one main reason why parents are likely to put a Grammar School first, ahead of a Private School. They’re free! But it’s not the only reason. There are other good reasons why parents might choose a Grammar School rather than a Private School.
It used to be the case that you needed to send your child private if you wanted them to get the best results. But that’s no longer the case. Some of the best schools in Britain are now in the state sector, according to The Sunday Times Parent Power League Table 2019.
Boys’ grammar Queen Elizabeth’s School, Barnet recently topped its state school list followed by girls’ grammar The Henrietta Barnett School in Hampstead Garden Suburb with Wilson’s School Wallington in Sutton in the third spot.
Undoubtedly, the gap between results in the independent sector and those in the state sector are narrowing at both GCSE and A-Level. In 2016 before the new grade system was introduced, just 79 schools managed to get 50% of their pupils achieving an A* at GCSE. 63 of these were independent schools and 16 state schools. This year 38 state schools achieved the equivalent benchmark.
It’s a similar picture at A-Level too with State Schools slowly catching up Private Schools. According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), the proportion of Private Schools achieving A or A* at A-Level fell from 52 per cent in 2010 to 47.9 per cent in 2017.
11+ entry system:
While all Grammar Schools have an 11+ entry system this isn’t true of all Private Schools. Some, including Eton College and Harrow School, do not accept pupils until the age of 13. This is because the vast majority of pupils still come from private Prep School, rather than through the state system. Understandably many parents prefer the idea of their child going to secondary school at 11, rather than 13.
Greater social diversity:
Finally, many parents prefer Grammar Schools because generally, they offer a greater level of social diversity compared to Private Schools. Although some children from deprived backgrounds do go to Private Schools on a scholarship or bursary, most are from wealthy backgrounds.
Grammar Schools, on the other hand, do offer a greater level of social diversity – albeit not as much as non-selective state schools. With the planned expansion of some existing Grammar Schools, it is hoped to increase social diversity even more.
Poor choice of secondary schools:
For parents living in some areas where there aren’t Grammar Schools and where state schools are poor – or perceived to be poor – parents often choose to send their child to a Private School. They believe they will get a much better education in the independent sector than in the state sector.
Excellent sports facilities:
Undoubtedly sports facilities at Private Schools are usually much better than schools in the state sector. Grounds are usually much much more extensive and better maintained than those of state schools and swimming pools and proper running tracks are commonplace. There are also specialist sports coaches for those who want to pursue a particular sport.
Better musical facilities:
As with sport, musical facilities are usually much better at a Private School than at a Grammar School. Many offer a huge range of instruments students can play. They also offer opportunities to play in orchestras and sing in choirs.
Earlier we said that the gap between Grammar Schools and Private Schools was narrowing in terms of attainment. This is true. However, there is still quite a big gap. For example, the proportion of Private Schools getting A*s at A-Level is still more than twice the national average.
More subject choice
Although it varies from school to school, generally there is much more subject choice in Private Schools than in Grammar Schools. For example, many Private Schools offer a much broader range of languages (Latin, Greek, Russian and Mandarin are commonplace) as well as excellent facilities for ‘non-traditional’ subjects such as Photography.
Conclusion: Private v Grammar
At the end of the day, it’s largely a personal choice for parents. Every child is different and it’s important they feel comfortable in the school. There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems. Ironically, many Grammar Schools try to model themselves on old fashioned Private Schools with a focus on uniform, discipline and structure whereas some Private Schools have become more relaxed and inclusive of late. Certainly, when it comes to results at GCSE and A-Level the gap between Grammar and Private Schools has narrowed. However, it’s fair to say that Private Schools generally offer much better facilities, if not always necessarily better teaching.
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