What’s the appropriate response to a friend who tells you they are sending their child to private school? Anthony Huxley, Dunfermline
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Errr, say something supportive because that person is a friend? If you don’t approve, don’t say anything because it’s none of your business. HKSinggirl
I am amazed by the number of responses like this! Did everybody decide friendship was only smiling and platitudes behind my back? A friend choosing to send their kid to private school would really make me wonder how we ended up friends; it says a lot about your sense of community and concern for inequality in society. NoTimeNoSpace
Say “lovely” and move on. Parenting is not the forum for interference, unless abuse is involved, let alone political argument. Alex Steeden
On average, private schools have nearly four times the income of state schools (figures from my recent report for Common-Wealth). Could they justify why their child is worth four times more than another? Prof Sol Gamsu, Durham University
I understand the motivations behind private education, but early boarding is abandonment and abuse. It’s taken me more than 50 years to 1) recover 2) discover (and partly repair) the effects on my sibling relationships. Avoid at all costs. Mark Perry
The right response is to mind your own damn business. Your friend is entitled to make decisions for their family as they see fit without you sticking in your judgmental two pennyworth. Would you feel entitled to intervene if a friend moved house to an area that just happened to have better schools? Decisions regarding kids are off limits – unless your friend is about to join a cult full of sex abusers. Angela James
The issue is not that a parent is sending a child to private school, it is that the private school is able to claim tax advantages as a registered charity. Change private schools’ status to the businesses they are and see what proper tax levels do to their survival. javathedog
We are easily seen as the ultimate hypocrites in this regard; it is very uncomfortable but actually not an incoherent position that we hold. We believe that private schools should simply not exist. I would happily pay in additional tax, an amount equivalent to private school fees, if it meant we could abolish them.
However, when seeking to find the most appropriate school in our local area where we as parents, and more importantly our child, felt comfortable, we could not find any state schools that seemed right. We were persuaded to look at private schools and found that even there something still felt amiss – until we found the private school that our child will be attending from September. It was simply the right school, absent any judgment about its status or type.
I’d like to say it made no difference to us, but that’s a lie. It does make a difference. We wish it weren’t the case, and we wish that all of the schools in all of their diversity were simply available to all children and their families.
So, the right answer when a friend tells you that their child is going to private school? “OK, but you do know that private schools shouldn’t exist, right?” And the right response to that? “Yes, I do. And I entirely agree.” Paul Gilligan, Warwickshire
I don’t see the difference between having enough money to send kids to private school and having enough money to afford a house in a posh location so your kids go to the best state schools. waddlecakes
How about you nod politely and carry on with your day? Not everything requires a debate, it makes no difference to you, just jog on. MarkStevo
Although it does make a difference, doesn’t it? It makes a difference to every single person in this country. Fee-paying schools are the single biggest driver of social inequality. lexicon_mistress
Where and how someone educates their own child is no one else’s business. The only response should be something along the lines of: “I hope they will be very happy there.” (Unless they owe you money.) Rachel Byrne
Something I have heard a lot from friends is that they “like the diversity” in their city and town and that is why they live there. It especially makes me cringe and can be viewed as nothing but virtue signalling when, alongside this statement, they send their children to private schools that are both socially segregated and racially segregated because of the prohibitive costs to most ordinary people. Katie Akerman
I was sent to a boarding school, aged eight, in the early 1970s and, although things have changed – I gather that there’s actual pastoral care these days – the thing that damaged me was the abandonment. You are damaged from seeing your parents and siblings walking away from you and leaving you on day one. The starting point is that my family, privacy, dignity, freedom and even my teddy bear were taken away from me. I developed strategic survival personality while being denied a place at the family home. I suffered grief, heartache, abandonment, a need to “survive” and anger. And I understand all of this more now, mainly because of the supportive Facebook group I belong to. “Michael”
There is nothing wrong with wanting to pay more to guarantee a standard of education. What’s wrong is that there is a massive disparity between the quality of “paid” education and “free” (taxpayer-funded) education. The closest you can get to a “right” answer is curiosity – they don’t need judgment, you can’t give acceptance, so curiosity is the middle ground. “That’s great – is it far from here? What sort of sports are they big on? Will they board? Do they have any friends going with them?” And so on – just as if they were attending any other school. Suzanna Steward
It really is a terrible waste of money. Core GCSEs can be achieved by any student who works steadily. Ten A*s are of little value in the scheme of things. Why pay crazy fees for that? Core GCSEs are a stepping stone to vocational training or A-levels. These are more important for work and university. Remember, too, there are wonderful committed teachers working in our state schools. Sarah Davey Woodford
You could always try: “Well, if you think that’s best for your child, all the best to you both.” However, if your friendship hangs on the freedom to righteously posture at each other, or you at them, then this friendship is doomed. Richard Want
“Well done! Maybe Jemima will make enough posh friends to get a job at the Guardian.” Steven Whittard
There is certainly no right or wrong response. Each child is different and has different needs, some children will do well wherever they are in terms of academics, but may socially thrive in a smaller private setting. Some children need more support than a huge comprehensive school can offer them. Some children who are extremely bright are not supported in a comp school that focuses on the larger middle sets. Sometimes a private school will have different specialties, eg a strong drama department, and their child is talented in that way, but perhaps less able in academics.
In short, you might congratulate your friend on their choices, and think privately that it’s wonderful that they are going to make this extremely expensive, financially punishing sacrifice for their children – when too many children are born to parents who don’t give a second thought to their children’s education.
Overall, we need far more diversity in education and certainly not less. Liz Brookes
Decision-making need not be by committee and your friend does not need to be burdened with your opinion. Elizabeth King
Speaking from personal experience, I would tell them not to choose a boarding school. They can do immense damage to a child, which often remains hidden, because children are told that they are receiving a privileged education. They then feel they cannot tell their parents how miserable and frightening it is to be abandoned by their main caregivers. Such children may go on to be “successful”, but deep inside they bear many wounds. Do not barter your child’s happiness for a high-status boarding school. Andrew French
My response to somebody about to send a child to private school is simple: don’t. It’s taken me more than 40 years to begin to realise and repair the emotional damage that two such places wreaked upon me, all in the name of my poor parents trying to buy “the best” for me. Mercifully, I never told them of the pain, the damage, the bullying, the peer-on-peer sexual abuse. Tobi Tarquin
I sent my oldest child to an independent school in 1997 when he was eight. I grew up on a council estate and became a young mum. The local school didn’t meet his needs – teachers kept telling me he was too clever and they lost interest in him as they preferred to concentrate on the other children who were not as intelligent. I had not even heard of the school he ended up going to until my oldest sibling informed me that there were assisted places and I ought to put him in for the exam. I inquired, it felt out of our league, but in the end we went for it. The entrance exam was the price of my week’s wage at the time and there was only six assisted places. At first people said good luck and seemed supportive. However, when he got a place, it all changed. Work colleagues with children the same age said he would stand out or be bottom of the class against all the fee-paying prep kids. Others made comments about private schooling being against what they stood for; I was made to feel bad for wanting something for my child that is only usually available for those who are privileged already. I was aware of the inequality in education and I don’t agree with a two-tier system, but at the same time I wanted the best for my son.
He spent 10 years at that school – it wasn’t all free – the uniform cost a fortune and keeping up with school trips etc was costly. The more I earned, the more I contributed; I was skint for the entire time he was there. He did really well and went on to uni to get his degree – I was skint for the next three years while he did his degree too. He now lives in Surrey and is married with a daughter; he has his own business and has escaped the chains that can bind you to a lifetime of nothing by default of where you live and who you are born to. I don’t regret any of the decisions I made on his behalf. His life hasn’t been as hard as mine so, to me, the sacrifice was worth it. Dawn Riley, East Riding
Private schools don’t turn normal children into elitist plonkers – their homes do that! State education won’t be improved by abolishing private education. Much better to properly fund the former to make the latter pointless. So if a friend wants to sign up for a lifetime of debt to send their child to a private school, keep your mouth shut and a lid on your opinions. Lowri Coulten
My mother always maintained you could lose all your possessions but no one could ever take away your education. We chose fee-paying schools for our sons. It was a struggle – we battled through financially and still live in the same small house we bought when we first got married. Do I regret it? No, it was worth every penny and I think my sons would now agree. Many parents of pupils at fee-paying schools do not own four-wheel drives, large houses or have expensive holidays. They simply choose to spend the money they have on education. Elizabeth Burroughs, Surrey
Easy. Tell them state school pupils outperform private ones with the same grades when they arrive at university. You don’t buy a better education at a private school – lots of private school teachers are the ones who were not good enough for state schools – you are trying to buy better peers. Over the past couple of years you would also be buying better grades as the private schools were the worst grade inflators and the least checked schools. planmoreblogless
I am frankly amazed at how many Guardian readers think supporting future class inequality is a good thing. The Overton window is further right than I thought. SiEgan23
Ex-state school teacher here: I have no objection to private schools either and I don’t care where my friends send their kids. You do what you think is best for them regardless of other’s opinions. However, don’t ever think you are buying “the best” because, as someone else has commented here, you quite often are not. You are not buying guaranteed exam results or an avoidance of bullying or very much else. Look carefully; choose carefully; keep looking, all through the time your child is there. Rachel191
We are about to do this very thing. The variety of sport on offer – far more than we could ever provide even by dedicating our weekends to sports clubs – was a major factor. As was the smaller class size. It is not a decision we have taken lightly and we may well return to the state system. cooker1
“Is there a discount if we pretend mine and yours are siblings?” MJPHall