More parents would like to use private schools, survey claims

Proportion of Labour voters who would consider private education increases by 13 points

The proportion of parents who would send their children to a private school if they could afford it has increased by nine percentage points in the past four years, according to research commissioned by independent schools. The proportion of Labour voters who would consider private education has also increased by 13 points, the study suggests.

Parents are worried about standards and discipline in state schools, private school headteachers claimed. The Independent Schools Council's head of research said many parents appeared to be seeking a "haven of moral values".

The ISC commissioned Ipsos Mori to conduct a poll of 2,000 people, including 600 parents. Of the parents, 57% said they would send their child to a private school if they could afford it - up from 48% in the last poll in 2004 and 51% overall since 1997. Some 7% of pupils are currently educated in private schools.

Of those who said they would prefer a private education for their child, 66% cited "better standards" in private schools and 30% better discipline.

Pru Jones, the head of research at the ISC, who presented the findings at the council's annual conference in London yesterday, said: "There does seems to be a sense of coming to a haven of moral values. We don't want to say in any way in independent schools there are not challenges in pupil behaviour, but there does seem to be almost a panic engendered in the nation's psyche about what is happening in schools and pupil behaviour that may be impacting on this."

Vicky Tuck, head of Cheltenham Ladies' College and president of the Girls' Schools Association, said: "I really do think it's the perception of safety and order and discipline. Parents say 'I want my children to be safe'." She acknowledged that most children were safe in state schools, blamed the media for portraying schools negatively and said independent schools also had to work to maintain "harmony and good order".

Some 54% of Labour voters said they would send their children to independent schools - up from 41% in 2004. The proportion of Conservative voters who would do so if they could afford it rose from 59% to 74% - but the researchers said the relatively small number of Conservative voters meant these were not statistically significant figures. The figures for Liberal Democrats increased from 53 to 55%.

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said state school standards were "high and good", adding: "They [the ISC] are knocking state schools. It's more about selling themselves at the cost of state schools. It creates unnecessary rivalry."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Parents are free to send their children to whatever kind of school they choose, but we're confident that free state education is better than it's ever been. We now have 70,000 more young people leaving school with five good GCSEs, including English and maths, than 10 years ago and more young people taking A-levels and going to university or college than ever before."


Polly Curtis, education editor

The GuardianTramp

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