Now that my “post-graduate modules” have wrapped up at Durham University, I’m now freer to focus on working in my host schools. To gain a broader understanding of the education systems at work in the Northeast of England, I have been visiting different types of secondary schools including ones that are privately funded and others that are managed by a private group utilizing public funds. In England, there are 3 major types of schools.
- Private Schools: These schools do not receive any public funding for their operations and maintenance. However, they are classified as a charitable organization which allows them to receive large tax breaks. They are sometimes referred to as fee-paying schools (~8% of students)
- Publicly funded schools: These schools receive all of their funding from the national government. There are 2 notably different types of publicly funded schools.
Local council schools: These schools are run by local government authorities in a similar way to public school districts in the U.S. These kinds of schools are becoming less common due to various factors. (~50% of students)
Academy Trusts: These schools receive national funding but are run by a private board of governors. Board of governors often consists of retired educators, successful philanthropists, business people, faith leaders, etc. (~40% of students)
No matter if a school is a privately or publicly funded, they are still held to a degree of accountability by an inspecting governing body that oversees schools of similar kind in the UK. This is primarily to ensure that they meet national requirements. It is understood by most that private schools have the greatest degree of flexibility regarding how they service their students. Academies from trusts are also known to have flexibility regarding management and usages of funds that local council schools might not although they are both predominantly funded through public taxation.
One of the schools that I visited last week is a private school that was first established in 1414…talk about history and traditions. I used to think that my own school (North High) was old but 89 years hardly compares to 603!
Elitism and social class distinction
I spent a day last week touring a school whilst talking to a retired teacher who spent most of his career teaching at one of those high end private schools with hundreds of years of academic excellence. He explained how class structures divide the various people groups in the UK. He felt that this divide could be clearly seen when comparing private to public schools. My adviser and I have had similar conversation about class structure and its representation at Universities in England.
According to people that I have spoken with and articles that I’ve read, students from private schools dominate high level positions in politics, business management, and various legal fields with nearly 75% of all UK judges having come from private school backgrounds. About 40% of all students at high end Universities like Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham come from private school backgrounds. Such private schools are rarely accessible to your average student due to high fees averaging around 25,000 GBP ($31,000) when the average worker in the UK earns around 27,000 GBP ($33,750) per year. Many of these schools are raising fees beyond the affordability of “wealthy” families by UK standards as they seek to attract students from super-rich families from abroad. One private school that I visited estimated that nearly a third of their students were international students from wealthy backgrounds. Such students hope that attending private English schools will increase their chances of being able to attend a prestigious University in the UK or elsewhere.
Anyway, class divisions on the basis of wealth seem to be a very prominent topic in England as a whole with their impact on education being something that I am still grappling with for better understanding.