Are state schools becoming a threat to the private sector?

Good Schools Guide founder says 'massively improved' maintained schools drive parents away from independents

As results and behaviour improve in state schools, more parents are choosing the sector over a private education, says Ralph Lucas, editor-in-chief of Good Schools Guide.

Despite record numbers of pupils at independent schools, Lord Lucas believes there is change in perception amongst parents who were previously likely to choose private education, which could lead to roll reductions and even closures.

Lucas’ remarks are based on comments from parents who use the Good Schools Guide service. The first edition of the guide in 1986 contained 10 state schools, compared to 300 in the 2016 edition – making up almost a quarter.

The change in preference would put pressure on the private sector, Lucas said: “If we carry on as we are, there will be a much smaller independent sector. I think it will just happen slowly but the option of having all that money to spend on something else is very attractive.”

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), said growing pupil numbers show that a ‘decline’ of private schools is not likely. He said: “Our own data does not support that statement: numbers grew last year. Of course things are tough for many schools but we are successful because we work hard, employ good staff and do the right things. We also have advantages in terms of per pupil spending and freedoms from government.” He also emphasises that independent schools lead the way in exam results, top degrees, career prospects and provision for specialist interests and special educational needs.

Chris King, chair of Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), said: “The best state schools are getting better but these are a relatively small number of predominantly grammar and free schools. When we look at the overall picture it tells us something very different, with hundreds of failing schools and areas of the UK where it is difficult to find a good school to send your child.

“Parents and pupils deserve consistency and leading independent schools produce reliably outstanding results on a far bigger scale than the relatively small number of free schools.” 

Despite this, King says it’s positive to see standards rising in the state sector: “HMC heads are always delighted to see standards in state school rising; this is not the Football League and everyone can win.”

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