Labour’s decision to ban private schools comes as no shock. The #abolishEton campaign gathered ground over the summer, leading to rising speculation that a motion such as this one was waiting in the wings. For a long time, the powers that be have had their eye on the archaic institutions which form the foundations of much of the British establishment. I myself attended a private school. I recognise the immense privileges which attending such a school laid out for me. I don’t deny that I did not have to face institutional biases on account of, among other things, the provenance of my education.
Fundamentally, I agree with Labour’s decision. Private Schools shouldn’t exist. Why is it that on account of your parent’s financial situation, you are able to obtain a better education than your peers? One that offers you a platform from which to spring into the world of networking, alumni clubs, and nepotistic employment. This shouldn’t be the case in contemporary society. Yet I would argue that, although Private Schools contribute massively to the sense of inequality which we have amongst the educational prospects of this country’s young people, they should not be used as a scapegoat to avoid the wider issue. By abolishing private schools, we will not put the disunity within our education system to bed.
The fact of the matter is that education has been monetised and incentivised, moulded into a business model to which it can never match up. Rather than focusing upon a holistic, rounded sense of education, this country has become hung up on grades: a letter on a piece of paper which will allegedly guarantee your ultimate prospects. Private Schools or their equivalents will always remain in existence as long as we uphold this pervasive attitude. Pushy middle-class parents will always look for a way to better their children. Whether it be through sending them to a prestigious independent school, or seeing them through the state sector while funding a tutor on the side.
While this momentous move from the Labour Party is a strident step in the right direction, it must be taken with a pinch of salt. Angela Rayner’s promise to implement a National Education System, modelled on the NHS, offers some hope for institutional changes. All education should, in theory, be equal. There must be consistent funding pumped into all schools across the country to bring them up to the same level, with the same resources and same opportunities for their pupils. Opportunities which take into account all kinds of ability, rather than purely academic excellence. While room should be made for scholarly paths, it is not the only way to obtain an education.
So, ultimately, I am wholly in favour of the abolition of private schools. They introduce elitism, stigma and unfair competition into the education system. But their closure must be paired with wider institutional changes and upheaval of opinion. It is time to do away with this country’s unhealthy obsession with stratification on account of academic ability. Education is not something which should necessarily be bought, it is something which should be given.