An Education To Us All

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I
live and work in the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh, which
at various times has been called the Athens of the North and the
Aids capital of Europe. Perhaps a bit of hyperbole in both these
opposing titles, I have seen one or two Greek colonnades and have
noticed the presence of a few dubious looking massage parlors.

But
may I suggest another title for my adopted city: the educational
zenith of Britain.

The
statistics are depressing: 93% of all British children are educated
by State-funded schools and the remaining 7% go through the independent
fee-paying schools. In socialist-minded Scotland, the independent
figure is worse at just under 4%.

In
Edinburgh, the proportion of secondary children (i.e. aged 12 upwards)
educated in private fee-paying schools is 24%. There are 12 such
private schools in a city of 440,000 people. The Scottish trend
is bucked by 20 percentage points.

So,
by what anti-statist wizardry do we come upon this happy estate?
Was Edinburgh once declared a State-free zone? No, the presence
of Edinburgh City Council and their crackpot political correctness
disproves that theory (Did I say that said council has now threatened
employees with disciplinary procedures if they invite some colleagues
to private functions but exclude others? Something to do with "inclusivism"
and it reeks of control freakery – but that is an article in its
own right.)

The
answer lies in Edinburgh's history. While Glasgow in the West was
regarded as an industrial city with its shipyards and factories,
Edinburgh in the East evolved to be the city of administration with
its banking and professional classes. In fact, this is still reflected
today in the various major financial headquarters and the growing
IT sector along with the famous Edinburgh International Festival
to satiate the cultural demands of that class of people. In other
words, Edinburgh is a prosperous city with an average salary that
is 12% above the national average and 18% above that in the west
and south of the city. So, Edinburghers have some money to throw
around and education seems to be a favorite target.

The
remarkable thing is that the parents could simply send their children
to the local State school and get it all for "free" instead
of paying around 5000 per annum on private fees per child. An attractive
bait one would think, until the examination results are compared.
The benchmark of the minimum required results to gain a university
places gives an average success rate for the State schools in Edinburgh
of 21% whilst the average for the Edinburgh private schools is more
like 80% and even the worst private school is better than the best
State school by a margin of 12% (better buck up its act!).

So,
I take my hat off to them. In fact, I will do more. I will send
my cheque off to them — my eldest child starts private schooling
in August. That in itself is a tale. We have 12 private schools
compressed into an area of 20 square miles. Like the gravitational
collapse of a star, the close proximity of each just heats up the
price competition more and more and down come the fees. Contrast
this with the rarefied atmosphere of scattered private schools in
England where 17000 per annum is not unheard of.

Of
course, such a thing savors of death in the socialist nostril (which
one I know not). It is regarded as divisive, elitist, and triumphalist.
It is nothing of the kind. It is an encouraging thing to see free
market forces rise up so markedly despite the customer having to
effectively pay twice for their child's education through taxation
and then private fees. The basic fact is that the consumable product
of state education has passed its sell-by date and consumers wants
a better product. The annually published examination league tables
are the carrot and so much so that many have agitated for an end
to their 10-year life. This is because it is argued that they do
not truly reflect the quality of the schools listed. This is trumpeted
for two reasons:

  1. Exams
    do not reflect how good a school is at making socially skilled
    citizens.
  2. Private
    schools use entrance exams to solve the problem of over-subscription
    and hence get the cream of the Edinburgh crop.

For
good citizenship, read "inclusivist social engineering."
State schools now are moving towards citizenship subjects, which
we must interpret as indoctrinating the "Statist status quo."
Meanwhile, indiscipline and terrorization by delinquent pupils continues
apace in such schools (so much so that strike action has been threatened
by the teachers). Frankly, the parents, who can afford it, do not
wish their children to be disrupted, assaulted, or offered drugs
by such peers, and have moved out of the public sector. Many call
it elitism; I call it common sense.

The
second point is more reasonable but the veneer is easily scratched.
Admittedly, the results of private schools are not skewed by the
under-achievers that State schools are forced to take on. But, firstly,
the benchmark results mentioned above for 16-17 year olds would
not include a lot of deadwood that would have given up long before
then.

Secondly,
private schools do not have first choice on every bright kid in
Edinburgh, most of them still go to State schools either because
their parents will not pay or cannot pay the private fees.

Thirdly,
the teacher to pupil ratio is lower in private schools with an average
of 9 secondary school pupils to one teacher as opposed to 13 in
the public sector. This has been proven to improve a child's educational
chances.

Finally,
and perhaps most importantly, there is the work ethic associated
with private education. The expectation of the parents is higher
and they and the child are thus motivated. This is seen to be worked
out in such things as more homework than the State schools and parents
who make sure it is done!

The
school and teachers themselves are competing for customers and are
also motivated to not see a child go to another private school.
Thus, we see free market forces come into play as parents and pupils
who do not share the united goal are asked to go and efficiency
is increased. An end of year report is an essential tool in the
company brochure.

The
total, driving force which moves towards the goal of prime, educated
children is completely different to that of the state school which
passively receives its subsidies no matter how bad it is and is
subject not to the laissez-faire judgement of paying customers but
rather to the infrequent visits by school inspectors. Contrast this
also with the State school teachers unions and their determination
not to see incompetent colleagues sacked.

Thus,
we see the private schools of Edinburgh armed with the sword of
free market innovation and efficiency deflecting the arrows of the
State with the shield of top-ranking exam results. Not in our lifetimes,
but perhaps in the lifetime of our children, that sword will eventually
deal a blow from which the State school will never recover.

March
26, 2001

Roland
Watson writes from Edinburgh, Scotland.

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