Should Christians send their children to private schools?

The Education Secretary Michael Gove, today gave a speech where he said that the segregation between rich and poor children was ‘morally indefensible’.  The Evening Standard tonight quotes his comments at length: 

“It is remarkable  how many of the positions of wealth, influence, celebrity and power in our society are held by individuals who were privately educated…on the bench of our Supreme Court, in the precincts of the Bar, in our medical schools, at the helm of FTSE 100 companies and in the boardrooms of our banks.”

He also said:

  • Privately-educated people dominate all aspects of life in Britain
  • Half of the UK’s gold medallists at the last Olympics were privately educated, compared with 7% of the population
  • Children who are born poor are more likely to stay poor in the UK than any other comparable nation

He went on to say:

 “The sheer scale, the breadth and depth of private school dominance of our society points to a deep problem in our country – one we all acknowledge but have still failed to tackle with anything like the radicalism required….

We live in a profoundly unequal society.  More than almost any developed nation ours is a country in which your parentage dictates your progress.  Those who are born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege in England than in any comparable country…for those of us who believe in social justice this stratification and segregation is morally indefensible.”

Maintaining inequality

I think private education is one of the key factors in promoting, maintaining and deepening inequality of opportunity in the UK. 

Whenever I drive past Dulwich College (pictured above) the massive contrast between its ostentatious facilities and the local  comprehensive schools turns my stomach.  And a quick check on their website confirms that their lovely facilities don’t come cheap – its over £15k a year for day pupils and over £32k a year for them to board. 

A Christian perspective?

There are loads of discussions that could flow from his comments about what the Government should be doing about education.  But lets go a bit closer to home and focus some discussion on one specific aspect – if Christians care about social justice – and there’s enough in the Bible about it to suggest we should (check out the Poverty and Justice Bible if you need convincing) – what should our approach to private education be?

The Church has not been short of Bishops and leaders who talk fluently about equality and justice but find the lure of private education hard to resist when it comes to their own children.

What do you think – should Christians send their children to private schools? 

(Please leave comments below on why you voted as you did)

About Jon Kuhrt

Jon Kuhrt works with people affected by homelessness, offending and addictions at the West London Mission. He, his wife and three children are part of Streatham Baptist Church and he is a member of the Christians on the Left. He likes football...but loves cricket.
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28 Responses to Should Christians send their children to private schools?

  1. Dr Colin Connolly DSc PhD says:

    We sent a child of ours to a good public school only because the state school system locally was in major trouble with strikes work to rule etc. The cost us was sacrificial! We don’t regret it one bit. The Chrisiant issue for us (and we prayed about it) was should we sacrifice a sons future based on our socialist principles? The answer was obvious to us. Incidentally many people who believe in State education (and we do) make sure they live in an area where the state system is succeeding- and there are areas like that still I’m relieved to say. The Christian question is whether people should move to good state school areas or giro the local bog standard comprehensive which is often very poor quality!

  2. pollard247 says:

    Revd Vaughan Pollard.
    Both of our Children attended a Private School for their Secondary Education and were only able to due to a Ministerial Bursary from the school. Jon, as you know I felt called by God to work for 11 years in an Outer Estate in West Yorks – here is the thing, my children didn’t. Advice & Evidence on the ground suggested that previous ‘Vicar’s Kids’ had been bullied simply because of who they were. The school in question had a Christian Foundation and offered a bursary to support Clergy and others. As a Socialist it took me a long time to come to terms with the offer. But the previous argument re the kids not being an apendage to the ministry of the clergyman swayed me. therefore my suggestion is it’s not always as black and white as it may seem, hence, ‘no in principle but it might be justified in some circumstances.’ ps both my children are now grown up, both have very clear vierws on Social Action, one works in a church run home for single mums, the other is undertaking voluntary work in the far east across the Autumn.
    I haven’t been asked to be the ABC yet and still work in West Yorkshire – a clue would be our MP is to be Respected….,

  3. Greg Smith says:

    It says something about the makeup of the Christian church when paying for educational privilege is an option! Thankfully it wasn’t for us so we didn’t have this dilemma.

    I know a large number of youngsters from Christian families living intentionally in East London who went to the local primaries and then the local comprehensives who came out with a perfectly adequate education … and good progress into university… if they missed out it was in the social networks of privilege.. though there were compensations in breadth of social experience.. The key factors in good education achievement are parental support and involvement especially in the pre school stage… Schools do little except reproduce the social system with all its persistent inequalities.

    And while I’m on my hobby horse Church schools are just an intermediate stage towards segregating out the privileged from the hoi polloi. Our kids actually went to a church secondary school.. which got everyone the statutory 5 A-Cs..not surprising as the vast majority were from the affluent suburbs of the town. But hardly an education so we sort of regret it. The ethos was such that the head was sacked for bullying staff (allegedly)…There was little evidence of real Christian faith being valued and taught.. The best part of our kids’ schooling was their inner city state primary, where 97% were from ethnic minorities, 70% of them Muslim, with a Catholic head teacher and staff who valued all the kids, respected and nurtured their cultures and faiths and recognised most of them as gifted and talented.

  4. I run a private school , maybe you should look at my Blog for my comments. http://www.adrianhawkes.blogspot.com

  5. David Beattie says:

    We pay for our children to go to State run schools anyway. My late wife and I, plus both our children went to State schools. Both my daughters have degrees and have a well rounded education. Though I went to our local Grammar School which did not educate us but was an exam passing factory. Whatever happened to being salt and light in our community? We had a great Christian group at my school and my daughter had a good one at her university. Jesus did not say ” Keep in your holy huddles” He said “Go to all creation!”

    • This thinking is sad because it makes so many unthought through assumptions. The assumption that the child is a Christian. The assumption that the home is supportive. The assumption that children are to be salt or light. The assumption that we should protect our children from Traffick untill they reach a certain maturity, but that we don’t need to protect what hits their minds via education!

  6. Arthur Simms says:

    Just to perhaps come at this from a different angle as a student, I have attended a state primary, secondary and now sixth form and am in year twelve. I am actually lucky enough to go to one of the top state schools in Bristol, which is a town that has a real problem with the quality of the state schools, aided in large part by the extremely high quality of many of the private school options. This leads me to have real sympathy for parents who are in the situation to where they have to make the difficult choice between the two. I am quite clearly not a parent so I can well believe that the choice would have far more variables.

    But I would argue that state schools have a lot more to offer than simply helping them to ‘become the best’. I have met and know well many people who currently attend public schools and whilst many of them are excellent people there is an underlying thread that I have a real problem with. Obviously this all comes from my own (quite possibly biased) experience but I find that the intense competition and encouraging students to be better than others often leads to a real sense of superiority and arrogance that can be hard to shake. The way that certain people have looked at me as though I am the scum of the earth for attending a state school whilst attending debating competitions and the like is quite incredible. I would suggest that academic success is not everything and that attending a comprehensive allows your character to be shaped by understanding what real human beings are actually like, not just ones forced though the stress of private education. And this also helps from a Christian perspective, because by better understanding others and having a broader view of society surely it becomes all the easier to carry out God’s work.

  7. charlierabbit2 says:

    As a teacher who constantly lives in fear of the next pile on nonsense to come out of Mr Gove’s mouth, this is one of the most sensible things he has said for a very long time.

  8. Rachel Musgrove says:

    The fact that you drive past Dulwich College and judge others in this manner is really disheartening. You notice the school because of the building and it ‘turns your stomach’? What would you have done with these beautiful buildings? Knock them down or turn them over to the National Trust so we can all pay for them? Thanks a lot! Let’s not forget these schools offer whopping bursaries and scholarships to children who might benefit from them. The parents also pay twice, once for their own children’s independent education and again into the state coffers for other people’s children. I can see plenty that’s wrong with that from their point of view, but nothing from yours. There is far too much judging within Christian circles of the way people live their lives. Independent schools set standards which state schools need to rise to. On a personal note, at secondary level, having experienced a local state school with our eldest daughter, we have got around the whole debate by sending our younger daughter to a Christian foundation school, which, having experienced independent education at primary level, I can assure you has all the same benefits without the slur.

    • Jon Kuhrt says:

      Hi Rachel – I know this is a sensitive issue and I do think its good to share different opinions on important issues such as these – but I just want to clarify what I wrote. Of course the standards are very high and the buildings are beautiful but its the contrast between these facilities and ordinary schools that turns my stomach – that bothers and disturbs me – the fact that some schools don’t have any playing space or sports fields and a school like this has acres and acres. I am not judging those who choose to send their kids there but I do think its a legitimate question to be asking within the church – its part of a tradition of self-critique within the Christian community that is important. Its all the more important when a government minister points out the massive inequality of opportunity that persists in the UK and how much education plays a role in maintaining it.

  9. Martha says:

    honestly this annoys me! it’s so simplistic. if only sending my daughter to a state school would bridge the inequality gap! as if… i opt for private education; i’m not detrimentally impacting the poor. in fact i may be releasing a place in an outstanding state school. + my earning potential (ameliorated hugely because of the wrap-around care in the private sector) funds state education (in tax) + i employ workers + domestic care (thereby distributing wealth). + in me, a working mother, the govt has a return on their investment in my own state education. Greg is on the case, when he says that ‘schools reproduce a social system’. if we want to affect change + that we should, methinks we should instead focus on redistribution of wealth: let’s support mothers to return to work (billions is lost to UK business); let’s increase teacher salaries; let’s scrap homework (hugely socially discriminatory IMO) + avoid easy answers that let us individually off the hook. education is not free. ever. it is a privilege. let’s all work hard, contribute fully + be accountable for our own wealth.
    by the bye, the cost of a child is over £200k, regardless of private education – should christians perhaps only have one or none? (http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/jan/26/cost-raising-child-rises-218000) ;0)
    let’s admit that we have choices; guard what we’ve been entrusted; look to our plank 1st.
    x

  10. As the survivor of a minor public school founded for the education of the sons of the poor clergy and now a Vicar in Easton, inner city Bristol I am bound to comment on this. We in Bristol are a divided city and this is exacerbated by our private schools educating huge numbers of our secondary aged kids. Christians in Bristol can (as we do) send their kids to an excellent City wide Church Secondary, which is a compromise that we made. We felt that our kids should not be adversely affected by our vocation to the Inner City so the local secondary school was not a good option for them. However if we could not have sent them to the Primary School attached to our Church we would not have come here, our thought is how can we look local people in the eye and effectively say. Its good enough for your child but not for mine…We do all need to be mindful of judging each other, and remembering that we are saved by grace not by the good works or otherwise of where we send our kids to school!

  11. samchew says:

    Firstly, I notice that Mr Gove, a thoroughly incompetent man on education, unless he has been selectively quoted, appears to have neglected to mention the glut of top jobs in the Cabinet which have been handed over to privately educated people – of the 23 Cabinet posts, I believe 13 are filled with people who went to private school. Also, as a member of the Conservative party, please forgive me if I question his will to create more equality in society, particularly through education. Even if he does have this will, his party will simply not allow him to do it. It is not what they stand for.
    I’m not, personally, in favour of private schools, at all. I have nothing against those who attended them, but I believe their existence is a divisive and sad part of our society, and maintains the strong segregation between rich and poor in our country. As an anecdote, my wife went to a private school (the currently hypothetical question of where our future children will go to school has not been settled yet!) and has spoken about a fellow former pupil who left school with poor grades, did not work hard, avoided university, choosing instead to travel around the world living off her parents’ riches and yet is now in a high paid job in London. Just one example, but one I believe is a microcosm. It is much more straightforward, if you have been to a private school, to get a good job. I don’t think that’s right.
    You get into discussions about whether or not the children who attend these schools have some innate ability which is, on average, greater than that of those who do not. I don’t believe that it is – I don’t believe that, after you have normalised for wealth, opportunity and other factors, the children who attend private schools are inherently cleverer than those who attend state school. I also disagree that those who attend these schools are naturally harder-working and more applied than those who do not. Instead, I think simply that with the resources that private schools have, and the parents who send them there, they are much more able to work on their pupils’ education and add value. All well and good for those who go there. So where’s the problem?
    Well, for me, I disagree entirely with the concept that your wealth or your position in society should be able to give you an advantage over those who are poor or low-down. I also believe that this concept is contradictory to Christian teaching, as well. I disagree that you should be able to “buy” your child a better future, whilst those who have not been so lucky in life as to secure a good job or break through the various glass ceilings in corporate businesses have to stand by and watch their children get second best.
    I also believe that in skimming off the brightest or richest children in society, and preventing them from socialising with less intelligent or poorer children, you have two effects: for those who are sent to the private schools, they are entered into a world of privilege, and sheltered from the problems of having to live with poverty. Simply enough, they cannot understand them. They often come to believe that their success has come through their own innate abilities, rather than the huge chances and opportunities they have been given. You only have to look at the recent accusations of Mr Cameron et al being “out of touch” and “posh boys” to begin to see that. Secondly, I believe that you limit the group of teenage peers and role models for those who attend state schools, and limit their connections and potential future options, and worsen the education and environment offered by those schools. You also have the question raised of how much better would state schools be if those wealthy people who are in such dominant positions of power in our society had a strong vested interest in making them better, by being forced to send their children there?
    So, no, I don’t believe that Christians should be sending their children to private schools. I believe that they are monuments of wealth, privilege and division. I believe that the principle of wealth buying opportunity is abhorrent and contrary to what I believe Christianity should value. But that said, I don’t believe that parents choosing to send their children to these schools is really the problem: every parent is ultimately committed to trying to create the best opportunity for their own child, often with a huge personal sacrifice. It is not easy – and some would say it is wrong – to put your own beliefs first and in doing so deny your child the opportunity for something better. It is a real dilemma, and it will be there as long as we allow private schools to operate. For me, the solution would be to close them down or bring them under the auspices of the state, and remove that dilemma from the parents. But that is certainly a hugely controversial thing to say, and not something which will be done by this Government, or any for a long, long time. Sadly we have re-entered an era of privately educated, Oxbridge politicians dominating our front benches, so I will be surprised to see much movement in this area. I’ll certainly regard any proposals emanating from Gove with interest.

  12. Samuel D. Lickiss says:

    Dear Jon,

    I’m having to be a little pedantic here, but as a teacher at a private boarding school I feel I ought to be contributing. Granted, the school I work at is in India, is firmly established in its Christian principles and supports the children of Christian workers in Asia, but the fact remains, these children could still go to regular schools much of the time. However, there are a huge number of impracticalities with that that don’t need discussing here. Children should be brought up in an environment that is safe and one that provides a holistic education which many of the woefully bad state comprehensives don’t provide. I think if it is a choice between sending a child to a school where they stand a very good chance of getting stabbed or sacrificing money to send them to a school where they will be safe I think the latter is the better option (though for many Christian workers that’s still not an option).

    It must also be remembered that there are private schools and private schools. Some, such as Christs Hospital near Horsham in Sussex are founded on Christian principles and generously subsidies the education of ‘gifted’ youngsters (though I despise using the term ‘gifted’ with regards to children usually). Some private schools have facilities bording on the ridiculous and indulgent whilst others are, comparatively, modest and may bring out the best in students. My personal experience of the state system was that my secondary school couldn’t care less about me and what I was good at, which was character building in hindsight.

    Some statistics, which are US-centric but I’m sure will pretty similar in the UK: there are 138million Christians in the USA (who claim they regularly attend church) who, together, generate $2.5 trillion per year. This, alone, would put them in the G8 (at number seven). This makes me feel a little bit nauseous.

    And I think if Christians choose to send their children to ludicrously priced private schools when perfectly adaquate education (private or state) is available is, frankly, wrong and goes completely against Biblical principles. I’m not sure my conscience could live with the thought that for a single terms education at a private school such as Millfield charging 10,420pounds per TERM (not including extras) I could put 70 children in Ethiopia (data based on that supplied by UNICEF) through 10 years of education…or put 50 children through education and provide training for a Christian to go through seminary and minister to these children.

    Plenty more to say on this issue but I have a habbit of rabbiting on and on…so I shall stop here,

    Samuel D. Lickiss

    Geography and science teacher at Hebron School, TamilNadu, India.

    • Jon Kuhrt says:

      Hi Samuel – great to have so many comments from the Connolly tribe! I think your comment is very wise and of course you are right that some private schools are modest compared to others. Your points about misuse of money are very powerful and important – we should be shocked by this kind of gross inequality. Thanks for commenting and all the best with your work in India.

  13. Jon Kuhrt says:

    Thanks to everyone who shared their stories and gave their comments. I think it is especially helpful to hear the real challenges that people face in these decisions. I think Sam makes a very important point that parents simply and passionately want to do the best by their children and of course this is very understandable but which makes this such a sensitive issue.

    Your stories show what a tough call this is for many parents – involving all the important issues – money, aspiration, calling as well as deep prayer and often angst. This is why its a good question to discuss and I think it is good to hear the issues being shared on both sides.

    The question has lived me with me a long time because as a teenager I could never understand why Christians in my suburban area paid so much money to send their kids to private schools when there was such a good C of E school right there. The ‘inner city’ issues simply were not there like they are for many of the people contributing.

    As some of you know I love cricket and I will never forget going to a Surrey cricket trial at St Johns Leatherhead when I was 17 – but even then it made me angry that there was only a couple of us from state schools and how easy it is to be intimidated by the innate confidence that often seems to accompany the privately educated. Later on at University it was an honour to captain ‘the Players’ (those from non-fee paying schools) in the annual match versus the ‘Gentlemen’ (fee paying) – it was a cracking grudge match and lots of fun – especially when we stuffed the toffs. (for clarity that last comment WAS a joke.)

    I have had some criticism via Facebook about the style of the article asking a simple question for what is a complex issue. Blogs by their nature are quite ‘fast-food’ and work best at times with a polemical angle which stokes debate. But I think specifics need debating – I like Tony Campolo’s essay ‘Should a Christian drive a BMW’ because it tackles something head-on rather than couching it in so many caveats. Jesus at times was polemical and deliberately provocative.

    The ‘question’ I asked had a range of answers that are hopefully fair and not too slanted – I genuinely wanted to see what people think. We have used the polls before and they are helpful – for example begging is a complex issue but the post on this issue was fascinating because it made those who answered it grapple with the question which is relevant because each time you see someone begging you have a choice of what to do.

    So thanks again and I think Philip’s comment was worth repeating: “We do all need to be mindful of judging each other, and remembering that we are saved by grace not by the good works or otherwise of where we send our kids to school!”

  14. Doug says:

    So I have a slightly different perspective on this. I think it’s a very complex and interesting question because it also incorporates the notion of class – something that is particularly applicable to the UK. 

    This came home to roost for me as someone interviewing for a job in my early 30s for investment banking and private equity investment roles – in both the US and the UK with undergrad and Masters degrees and 7 years of commercial experience. The contrast was stark. The Americans wanted to know ‘could I do the job?’ The English wanted to know whether my Senior school was private or state. Utterly baffling to me – but a wonderful example of why Britain has leadership issues (especially in industry).

    Generally speaking it does not have a framework for an egalitarian meritocracy. Therefore (and I believe this is changing to a degree) the people in the jobs aren’t necessarily people who have the right skills to be there. Instead, I would herald, certain networks still influence certain jobs (another blog topic entirely). And because of this, we all get sucked in to the ideology that unless our children are privately educated they will find it hard to ‘succeed’, which on the surface isn’t an unfair supposition.

    Aside from the obvious (improving state schools) I think as Christians this is something that needs confounding. Paul was clear “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” Maybe this underlies Jon’s question, but maybe we need to stop being impressed (or unimpressed) by people’s academic credentials (something I am guilty of) and ask if they are people of character, or if an employer – can they do the job?

    So regardless of where we went to school or end up sending our children to school, I believe in a God that can move mountains in order that His purposes be accomplished in and through us. As for us and our 4 children household – the local private Catholic school was our optimal choice: 4th child goes free.

    • Jon Kuhrt says:

      Thanks Doug – really interesting to hear how things are different in the US

      • Doug Bacon says:

        Jon – but just in case you think I’ve defected, the US’ Gini index has never been higher – so there are clearly other substantial issues when it comes to inequality. But in this area, the ‘anyone can make it’ mentality seems to be still alive.

  15. Simon says:

    All schools should be private. They shouldn’t be run by the state, which doesn’t have a clue, but by local charitable trusts which actually care about the children they look after. Christians should help create such healthy environments.

  16. phil says:

    If private education creates better leaders then Christians should do all they can to ensure their core values and Christ’s will are represented and reflected prominently in society. Give your kids the best education you can and worry not about whether this will make them more or less equal than the next kid. Focus more on ensuring thay they appreciate these God given gifts and that they use them to do God’s work.

    It’s frustrating that Christians would moan about establishments like private education eroding equality. It’s what people do with their education that creates the problem. This is what we need to focus on.

  17. jeremy says:

    i agree with rachel ; dulwich is a beautiful school ; the great hall is absolutely fantastic. however you have been rather hoist by your own petard ! dulwich is full of immigrants ; hardly any english boys go there, & to cap it all off , several of the houses have closed because no one boards anymore. however 2 of our greatest englishmen have gone there scott who epitomises what christianity is about & wodehouse who wrote such amusing stories about sermons.

  18. c2drl says:

    What i think is sad is that people set out to label and knock private education and feel that is justified by their faith. Surely the christian perspective is to see each and every person as special and different in God’s and our eyes and do what is right for them. I come from a working class home, made it through selection to a Grammar School and through that have found a fulfilling career and been able to help others, both with money and experience. That is not a route that is open to many children today because of bigoted thinking about selection which has removed top class education from some in the state sector and meant that top jobs often can only go to privately educated people.

    Selection is not wrong, it is finding the right route for diverse people. It only becomes wrong when children are labelled no hopers and pushed into poor achievement. Today we stop many more people from achieving their potential because we constrain education. Sure there were flaws in the old system, but surely the way is to mend the flaws not to stop everybody from having the benefits.

    It makes me cross that education is now seen as a saussage machine into which we feed all children and expect lots of degree carrying people to come out the other end. We need a diverse system catering for diverse people and we then need to address the best way of helping and loving those who find it difficult to succeed.

  19. Jon Kuhrt says:

    I am really glad that this post has been read by so many people who disagree with what I have written. The point is that it is a legitimate question to ask (most questions are) and despite the sensitivities of the issue, it is one that Christians should grapple with. I wonder what you made of Gove’s comments – was he wrong to point out the inequalities created and sustained by private education?

    When C2drl states ‘Surely the christian perspective is to see each and every person as special and different in God’s and our eyes and do what is right for them’ I agree with him – but of course this cuts both ways. Christians are concerned (or should be) about the common good – not just what is right or good for them – but what is right and good for society and for a world that God is seeking to restore through his action and his people. I should care about the kids in my sunday school group, the kids who live on my street as well as caring about my own kids.

    It is this tension between the common good and personal ambitions and concerns which is the key issue in this debate. We are never going to get complete equality but I am so glad that Christians have fought over the years to improve the collective provision of education, health and housing as this has hugely benefited our whole country.

    Personally, I think its about right that the largest contingient voted for the 2nd option – its the one I voted for. I think many Christians who do send their kids to private school acknowledge that it is not the best option but one they have gone for due to various circumstances. What I completely disagree with is the insinuation that somehow this is an out of order question to ask or that this kind of decision has nothing to do with faith.

  20. Pingback: Disagreeing well is good for us (far better than echo-chambers which just reinforce what we already believe) | Resistance & Renewal

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