If the government believed that education should create equal opportunities for all members of society, they may wish to abolish private education in the UK. Some studies show that individuals with a private education background have more education, job and social opportunities than those who were educated by the state. Abolishing private education removes the differential bias of universities which tend towards those who are privately educated, creating more opportunities for those who were not to receive a private education in the first place, thus increasing their utility.
The fact that some people are unable to afford private education for their children creates an inequality and unfairness in that it disadvantages state students on that account alone. Though 99.9% of Oxbridge applicants have straight As and A*s, only a tiny proportion are picked – these are usually non-state educated individuals (to build on the previous point). In fact, Oxbridge colleges have a quota for the amount of state school students they are allowed to take in – this disparity would be removed if private education was abolished and would thus increase utility within the families of those who have children educated by the state.
Another reason the government may abolish the private education system is the potential inhibition of the public system’s reform due to the presence of the private system. It is an inevitable feature of democracies that the higher income households have particular access to politicians and policy-makers. With a private system in place, the well-off do not need to pursue the reform and improvement of the public system, as they have no incentive to “lobby” politicians on behalf of the education system and have a perverse incentive to remove education from political agendas in favour of their preferred issues and legislation.
Thus, by forcing the richer to experience the same situation as the rest of society by abolishing private education, we can expect to gain meaningful education reform, especially in terms of increased funding relative to national and municipal budgets. Education may not be a national priority until the entire nation has a vested interest in the good order of the system. Once the reform is complete, or at least addressed, the utility of the general public will increase and then help to maximise economic welfare. The externalities associated with providing better education also apply – better job prospects come from a better educated workforce, and increased labour productivity leads to a surplus of many other positive aspects of the economy.
However, the government should acknowledge the fact that private schools create a natural competition in the education sector, which can provide useful to the economy. The presence of the option of private education forces the government to maintain the standard of state education to prevent the affluent middle classes from deserting state education entirely and sending their children into private education at a reasonable cost. The growth of this idea within more families could lead to a growth in the demand for lower taxes due to a majority of families not wanting to pay for state education they are not utilising. This would lead to a drastic fall in the utility of those still consuming state education, as funding would be cut dramatically, lowering the quality of state education. This, in general, means that the government is forced to compete with the private sector of education in order to guarantee continued funding and the support of middle classes.
In addition, those who choose to send their children into private education due to their ability to afford it lose this utility if private schools were abolished. Their children’s advantage of receiving a higher quality education due to the higher strain on their income is abolished alongside it. Furthermore, the utility of those already in state education may not necessarily rise as a result – there may be more crowding within schools, thus reducing the quality of education they had in the first place. Also, if all children were to be sent to state schools, the government, in attempt to fix the problem of overcrowding, may have to increase expenditure to build more state schools as opposed to increasing the quality of education. This means there will be a higher tax burden on taxpayers, who will have to pay for the extreme increase in the spending in the public education sector.
In conclusion, the government must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the private education system on the economy when deciding on whether to abolish the system or not. It depends on the state of the UK economy and the extent to which there is a disparity between those in private education and those within state education – which, generally, discounting one or two universities (for example, Oxbridge), is not that great. I believe that the benefits of private education heavily outweigh the costs, and that there is in fact a higher cost to abolishing it than there is to keeping it.
Written by Omkar Dixit