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Do state or private schools provide the best education?


The debate about which type of educational institution provides the best education – state or private – has been going on for decades. League tables argue first one way, then the other, and opinions are hugely divided. So, do state schools provide the best education or is this only to be found at private schools? And how does it affect your uni choice? Do universities really favour pupils from private schools?

The difference between the two

A state school uses an educational system that has been put in place by the government and that has to follow the national curriculum. A state school provides a free space for all children aged between 5 and 16. A private school is just that, a privately-run educational institution that need not follow the national curriculum and where availability is limited to those children whose parents have paid a fee or where the child has been awarded a scholarship. For years, it has been the opinion of many that a ‘paid-for’ education delivers the best results, in terms of providing better education and in turning out well-adjusted young people.

But that way of thinking may have been proved to be old-fashioned. Recent studies analysing results from 2013/14 show that 82 percent of students at state school achieved firsts or upper seconds in their degrees compared to their privately-educated counterparts, where only 73 percent managed the same grades. Also, students from state schools performed better on average with two Bs and one C at A-Level than private school students.

However, some may argue, much of the success of students is dependent upon the school they attend. Some schools may be considered poor and always appear low down on school league tables, while others may be consistently good at what they do. This is naturally why parents are so keen to get their children into the ‘best’ schools. But this thinking goes for state schools as well as private schools, especially with foundation schools, such as the Kingsdale Foundation School, which are state-run but whose governors have a freer hand in controlling the direction and quality of the education provided. This freedom to make choices about the curriculum and adapt it to the needs of pupils may be a significant causal factor in whether pupils are able to attain good results in their exams that will take them to the university of their choice, whether that be Oxbridge, Sussex, York or Birmingham.

The latest research seems to show that all children, regardless of their background, are capable of doing well academically, provided, and this is the catch, that they are given enough guidance and opportunities to excel by the teachers, and that the teachers are supported by their board of governors and indeed, by the government, to do so. State school students may sometimes feel that they have to ‘catch-up’ to their private school counterparts simply to gain the same opportunities at university and even after, when they have their degrees and are thrust into the job market.

It seems there is little difference these days between a good state school and a good private school in the level of education provided. What is more important is that the students are pushed and encouraged to fulfil their potential.