You don’t have to pay to get your child a good education. Nor is it assuredly good just because you pay. But the best independent schools are constantly aware of that very direct contract between parents and school. Fee-paying parents tend to be very demanding (we heads should know!): but they have every right to be.
Nonetheless it’s not a mere business transaction. Private schools enjoy the privilege and the freedom of independence. They don’t have to be pushed around by government (not too much, anyway), and fee-paying status does allow schools to set an appropriate level of resources, but nor are private schools trying to do the impossible on inadequate funding, a demand often made by government of its own schools. Instead they can concentrate on giving the very best of opportunities to the children who come to them.
It’s fair to say that it’s rare for independent heads ever to have to say to staff, ‘parents are paying a lot for this, so give them their money’s-worth!’ The contract is much more about a state of mind, a real commitment from school to home, with the child absolutely at the heart of it.
Bernard Trafford, Headmaster, Royal Grammar School, Newcastle
The ‘free’ maintained school versus ‘fee paying’ private education is a British phenomenon and parents in France, Spain and many other countries would be bemused if you asked them this question. As Head of an all-through (3 to 18 years) independent girls’ day school I talk to many parents who are considering, or have already decided, to send their children to a fee-paying school at least for part, if not all of their school education. For many, this will involve tough financial decisions and making economies at home.
The overriding factor influencing their decision is that they want to give their children, or child, what they consider to be ‘the best start’ in life to prepare them for the opportunities and uncertainties of adult life and work. When parents and their daughters come to look round they are struck by the very substantial extra dimensions that a school like ours can offer. These include the ethos of a broad all round education with a strong emphasis on pastoral care and support – our mission is to help each individual child fulfil her potential. The very full extracurricular programme of activities ranging from sport, music, dance, drama to debating and school trips is also testimony to the emphasis on breadth and the importance of developing the so-called ‘soft skills’, in addition to an excellent academic education.
Fee-paying schools also tend to have a higher teacher-to-pupil ratio making a reality of the aim that each child should be known and valued as an individual.
Hilary French, Headmistress, Newcastle High School for Girls
The question really is: why not pay for education? Every parent wants the best for their child, and every child has very different needs and tastes. A school like Teesside High is able to offer that tailor-made education in an environment that both stimulates and cares for each individual; it’s the context of a country setting, small classes, dedicated classroom teachers and outstanding pastoral care that makes a difference. For instance our forest school is not just for nature trails, but children who need help with social skills meet once a week to do things like whittle sticks, climb trees and make dens, cook sausages over a bonfire: it’s about freeing children from the herd mentality of a big school and giving them stimulating activities that challenge them to be themselves, be quirky, be curious and concerned about the world – not just a robot sitting exams.
On average Teesside High School has a class size of 15 – compare this to classes of 30 or more in the state sector. A report produced by the Department for Education in December 2011 states that the UK has one of the largest average (primary school) class sizes among OECD countries. It is without doubt that being in a smaller class improves a child’s chances of success. Teesside High School pupils receive more interaction with teachers and less time is taken up on administrative tasks – such as taking the register. Another factor is that subjects are taught by subject specialists much earlier on, which is a huge advantage.
Expectations in terms of manners and behaviour are very high throughout Teesside High School, it runs through the fabric of what we do and encourages mutual respect and tolerance; students learn to be resilient; to work hard; and are encouraged to be involved in life outside the classroom. The pupil-to-teacher ratio ensures no child falls under the radar. Pupils have the opportunity to try a huge range of activities and to find something that will truly inspire them.
Charlie Watson, Head Teacher, Teesside High School