Jun 4Liked by Katherine Ormerod

As someone who has experienced both ends of the spectrum, I can say that I have done a full U-Turn from being private school all the way to now being a massive State School Supporter. My eldest daughter went to a private primary, where because of the cookie cutter education (they only care about top marks in Maths and English due to the private secondary entrance exams) and don't support kids who are more creative. As a result she spent years in therapy trying to undo the scars of that education. She moved swiftly in to a performing arts secondary school (private again) which was fantastic, and has now moved to the local secondary school for her A levels which she loves. I dearly wish she had been in state from the start. It would have suited her better (not to mention my bank balance). Her much younger brother and sister will go to state right from primary through to secondary. PS - all of the above is also in Chiswick :)

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"It’s the people your child meets in these loci of wealth, the confidence they build by rubbing shoulders with (often extreme) privilege and the relative isolation from the impacts of true scarcity during their formative years which really changes the game." THIS has long been my understanding of why people choose private schools. Like you, it wasn't until I got to university and met people who were studying business and interning at a bank already, wearing pearls and living in residential colleges (I'd never heard of them, and couldn't understand how anyone paid for them without having a job! LOL) that I realised there was this whole secret world that my family literally had no clue about either.

I went to a non-selective public high school in a very affluent area (although by no means the most affluent in Sydney - no water views!) that parents chose over the many private, religious or selective options available. We out-performed the religious/private schools, and getting into a good uni course was pretty much guaranteed. Twenty years ago, these high schools were more common, and they were sought out - if you moved in area the school had to take you. Nowadays these schools do not perform the same way, their enrolments are no longer full to bursting, and they seem full of insurmountable problems (I have a friend who teaches at the local high school, which has been set on fire TWICE this year.) Once upon a time I'd been counting on finding a high school like this for my child, but it seems they no longer exist, and property prices are so insane that moving for a school is not an easy choice.

I once read an essay by Zadie Smith which touched on this topic (I can't for the life of me remember which one) and I thought she touched on a really core issue - if we all send our kids and resources to the local comprehensive, that school will rise with the tide. But given we can't all agree to do this (and I agree with you KO, we shouldn't be forced) do we want to sacrifice our children's education waiting for everyone else to join us, waiting for an outcome that they may never receive? And then I drive past a nearby private school and feel my eyes automatically roll at the line of BMWs and porsche cayennes picking up their children, who couldn't possibly walk or take the bus, and I just don't know.

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We live in Edinburgh where 1 in 4 pupils are educated privately, the highest proportion in the UK. There are 15 private schools in the city.

My daughter is at primary state school and will remain state school educated (financial circumstances mean this isn’t even a choice). All we can do is scrabble to get to the best state school we can, but as we have catchments we are then caught up in the crazy housing market. Case in point the houses on our side of the street are worth thousands more because we’re on the border. If your kids are at private school you are free to live wherever.

So even within state school we have the case of the haves and have nots, as those who can afford to can get into ‘better’ catchments. Even that makes me feel guilty.

There’s a Schools in Edinburgh magazine, and the first half is dedicated to private schools where they pitch to parents about ethos, values, their new tennis courts and wellness areas, the ski trips, the Michelin trained chefs, and the new sports pavilion.

The second half ranks all the state schools, just a table of stats as there’s not much to differentiate on, perhaps some have a better playground or do a forest school offering.

One of the columns is how many kids are on free school meals and can vary from 4% - 64%. How can we be comfortable as a society having that much wealth and privilege in the first half of the magazine, and children whose families can’t afford food in the second?

That’s why we as a family couldn’t send our children to private school. Every child deserves a fair tilt.

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Thank you, so interesting and thought provoking! Have also seen some of this firsthand. Have always been curious about the self-confidence gap which you address so well, and therefore interested about what your school did to instill the self-belief you refer to? The way you discuss it, it sounds quite consciously done… And surely building self-confidence is (in sweeping terms) the major achievement of the private school sector?

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My daughter is 3 and I cannot believe the amount of chat I’ve already heard about private education - especially moving from Wales (where hardly anyone I knew of went to private school) to London. Similarly I wrote about the weird Oxbridge obsession among some parents here: https://open.substack.com/pub/sophiehines/p/why-are-parents-still-obsessed-with

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