Is abolishing the private school system the answer to inequality? | Letters

Clive Stafford Smith and Michael Moszynski respond to Melissa Benn’s long read

Melissa Benn’s piece on the pernicious impact of private schools, while excellent, still underestimates the problem (How do we end the class divide?, Long read, 24 August). I was the (involuntary) beneficiary of such an education. I owe much to my privileges, yet my gratitude does not justify denying others their equal rights. The fees at my old school are now £34,000 a year, and its charitable wing adds another £12,000 per student for a total of £46,000. The facilities are astounding, from the science labs to the private golf course.

Given gift aid, as well as the donor’s tax break, the government is chipping in £4,000 towards the private student’s privilege there. My child is in a state school where the spending is £4,019.26 per child per year. In other words, the children at my old school have 11.4 times as much spent on them as my son, subsidised by almost identical government funding.

I confess I could no more bring myself to send my son to a private school than I could – as an American – vote for Donald Trump. Yet merely taking a pious position achieves nothing. Comparatively few state schools have a charitable arm; at least we incorporated one for our local school. As parents we can try to help the overworked teachers. However, until we eliminate the subsidies for private education, if not the schools themselves, the privileged will never truly have a financial incentive to support the education of those who are far less fortunate.
Clive Stafford Smith
Symondsbury, Dorset

• I agree with Melissa Benn that the role of private schools needs to be debated to avoid an entrenched privileged class. However, as Venezuela has vividly shown, you don’t make the poor richer by making the rich poorer. I don’t believe you make the less well-educated better off by making the better-educated less so. That is why the principle of free schools is so important: no selection, but just a quality of education that anybody, regardless of income or educational capability, would desire.

My son was in the first year intake of West London Free School. Despite the challenges of being in a totally new school with no older children, and being the youngest in his year, he has just got 3 A*s at A-level. More important than this achievement was his experience of being alongside people of diverse backgrounds. But the only way to improve state schools is to offer parents choice and to encourage competition. The teaching unions and the left hate this. However, the improvement in state schools, particularly in London, has been a major success of the Conservatives since coming to office in 2010. Not perfect, but a good start.

What has the left offered beyond “bog-standard comprehensives” while sending their children to private schools, or sneaking them into grammars, having axed them for other less well-off families. I would ensure private schools provide scholarships to less privileged children at least to the value of the charitable tax benefits they receive.
Michael Moszynski

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