There is a growing tier of independent school parents who are considering trading down.They look at the academic grades from their successful local academy or selective grammar. They look at the grades from your excellent school. But they see an ever-decreasing gap.
They say to themselves, we only have limited resources. Where are we best to spend them? On our child’s education now, or to help with tuition fees and living costs at university?
‘Is that ever-decreasing gap worth it?‘ they ask.
Meanwhile, the selective grammar and the successful local academy are having their own conversation. They are delighted the attainment gap is getting narrower. They are also aware that the ‘gap’ is more than academic: it’s all the rounded extra curricula opportunities their independent school competition can provide for pupils. It’s the smaller class sizes. It’s the more individualised care. It’s the facilities.
However, their experience tells them that an increasing number of parents are willing to forego these benefits, or to arrange them privately, and are attracted by the state sector offer.
But what the grammar and the academy Heads also know is that their educational offer is, at its core, limited by OFSTED.
To remain at the top of the school ranking, they have no choice but to focus on OFSTED targets and its criteria. And right now, OFSTED has no measure requiring schools to evidence that their education is leading to improved pupil wellbeing. Therefore, it is almost impossible for state Heads, or academy chains, to invest substantial resources in highly individualised pupil support.
And this is the great difference.
The independent sector, inspected by ISI, has made the evidence for the personal development of each pupil an inspection requirement.
As a result, this is the one regime-difference that independent schools can highlight to all parents considering trading down:
‘You can trade down, but you will be moving from a school system that prioritises academic outcomes AND personal development to one that is forced to focus on grades, sometimes to the detriment of wider provision.’
My wife and I have direct personal experience of this. Our three children have all had some private and some state education. When we moved them back into the state sector, we lost relatively little academically. But we did lose a sense of personal attention.
Did that really loss really crystallise for our children?
Actually no. It was an intangible loss- a sense our children were not known quite as well.
BUT, and here is the big but… The independent school did not have any HARD evidence to show what impact they were having on our children’s social-emotional development. The benefit was intangible.
We very much wish, as parents, they could have shown us the impact they were having.
Had our school evidenced that level of specific, individual understanding of our children’s needs, we might have thought twice about trading down and sending them to our local, successful academy for their sixth form.