Private Schools Have Public Benefit, Says Study

Apr 2 2014, 2:33am CDT | by

Private Schools Have Public Benefit, Says Study
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

In what counts as a good news day for the fee-paying education sector, a study published today claims to put a value on the public benefit of private schools.

Research conducted by the consultancy Oxford Economics found that Britain’s private schools contribute a gross £11.7 billion ($19.5 billion) to annual GDP, support 275,000 jobs and generate £4.7 billion ($7.8 billion) in tax revenue, £173 for every household in Britain.

This puts private education on a par with the city of Liverpool in terms of its contribution to the U.K. economy.

The report is well-timed. Despite pupil numbers bouncing back after the dip caused by the economic slump, the private, or independent, school sector in the U.K. has found itself on the defensive in recent months.

Last year, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, accused the independent sector of refusing to commit to partnerships with publicly-funded, or state, schools, instead offering them only “crumbs off your table.”

Earlier this week, I reported on a study showing state pupils outperform those from private school at university. On top of this, above inflation increases in fees have led to fears that private education is rapidly getting out of reach for many.

The proliferation of privately-educated pupils in public life has also been seen as both a symptom and a cause of social divisions in Britain. Even Education Secretary Michael Gove, a close ally of Prime Minister David Cameron, weighed in last month, describing the number of former Eton pupils in Cameron’s inner circle as “ridiculous.” The prime minister is an Old Etonian himself.

Today’s study, commissioned by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) which represents most fee-paying schools in the U.K., should also be set against the background of pressure from the Charity Commission for private schools to justify their charitable status.

So the findings provide reassurance that private schools have public benefit, at the same time as setting out the scale of their economic importance.

According to Matthew Burgess, general secretary of the ISC: “While our schools have been long recognised for their educational excellence, we can now see how important our schools are in stimulating growth and employment, in contributing our fair share of tax and supporting local economies and communities across the country.”

As well as analysing the contribution of the independent school sector to the economy, the researchers also estimated that the U.K.’s 2,600 private schools represent an annual saving of £3.9 billion ($6.5 billion) to the taxpayer, who would otherwise have to pay to educate those students in state schools.

There is no doubt that the U.K.’s private schools are also an international asset. The ISC’s latest census shows that one in 20 of all pupils at a UK independent school are non-British, with a big increase in recent years in the number of students from Mainland China.

It is also a brand that travels. In 2013 ISC schools taught almost 19,000 students in 29 campuses overseas, an increase of almost 50% on the year before. As education becomes an increasingly international commodity, the appeal of a British private school education could become more and more valuable.

The balance sheet is not entirely one-sided. The government estimates that charitable status is worth around £100 million a year to private schools. On top of this, the majority of teachers in private schools are trained at the taxpayer’s expense.

A study by academics at the Centre for the Economics of Education at the London School of Economics found that in 2006 private schools hired 3,300 teachers either straight from university or from state schools. Given that evidence to the House of Commons suggests it costs at least £16,000 to train a teacher, this suggests private schools are the beneficiaries of £54 million of public investment.

Even with these subtractions, the financial benefit is clear. But opposition to fee-paying schools is rarely based on their being a drain on the economy. Rather it is on the perceived unfair advantage conferred by a private education and the barriers to social mobility that independent schools are seen to represent./>/>

Many private schools have taken these concerns on board and are working with state schools in both partnership and sponsorship arrangements. But this needs to become both the norm and more widely-known if they are to have an impact in the public consciousness.

Demonstrating the economic contribution it makes will buy the private education sector some breathing space, but it will take more than hard currency to show it is a positive force in society.

*At the time of writing, the report had not been made available online. When it is, I will post a link in the comments section of this article.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 
 

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