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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 17:12 GMT
School-chasing parents 'immoral'
pupil writing
Anthony Seldon argues for means-tested state school fees
A private school head teacher is questioning the morality of parents who "squeeze and twist the system" to get into the best state schools.

Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Brighton College, East Sussex, repeats his call for means-tested state school fees.

He argues this would give parents a vested interest in improving schools.

In a speech to a conference in London, Dr Seldon says most people who choose private schools do so for the standard of education, not snobbery.

He attacks the "conventional wisdom" that says parents who go private are "selfish, not community-minded and are essentially social snobs who choose these schools to keep their children away from the great unwashed".

Many are "very ordinary" people who worked hard to save enough money to afford the fees, he says.

Catchment areas

"The moral unworthies I think are the middle-class parents who squeeze and twist the system for their own advantage to get their own children into the best state schools," he says.

General taxation will never provide the funds adequately to provide quality primary and secondary education
Anthony Seldon
He criticises those who move home, paying premium prices, into the catchment areas of desirable state schools.

"General taxation will never provide the funds adequately to provide quality primary and secondary education, any more than it has in higher education."

In other countries, such as Spain and South Africa, most children went to public-private institutions, he said, advocating the same kind of partnership in Britain.

He admits his idea is unlikely to be popular, requiring "a revolution in thinking".

But parents who paid fees are more likely to take an active interest in their children's schooling, he says.

"Fee-paying parents demand a good service, and are closely involved in schools.

"Research shows that the more involved parents are, the better the performance of the school."

He adds: "Means-testing will allow them to make affordable contributions, to the immeasurable benefit of their children, to their schools and to parents' involvement in their children's education."

The leader of the National Union of Teachers, Doug McAvoy, said the idea was not unlike top-up fees in universities.

But he said a three-tier system would result in utilitarian education in those schools where no-one was paying fees.

In a paper for the Social Market Foundation think tank, Dr Seldon has previously argued that better-off parents should pay for their children's state education as a way of bringing secondary schools up to the resource levels of the independent sector.


Do you think is it "immoral" to move schools to get a better education? Has your child moved schools for this reason? Send us your experiences using the form at the bottom of the page.

I'm fortunate to live in the catchment area of one of the best local schools, but I bought my current house before I had any kids (and with no consideration of what the catchment area was). However I think this chap who says its immoral to try and move to a different catchment in an attempt to secure a better education for one's kids is missing the point. I, like many other parents I suspect, do not care one whit if someone perceives such actions as immoral. It's not immoral to attempt to get the best for your children.
JonB, Worthing, UK

We should strive to make all schools equal, then the system would be fair
Kevin, Leeds, UK
We kid ourselves that we have choice in primary and secondary schools - but what we have is inequality. Rather than special schools, parents trying to crowbar their children into good schools (understandably), and another factor that drives house prices up, we should strive to make all schools equal, then the system would be fair.
Kevin, Leeds, UK

Shortly after sending my bright, happy four year old son to our local state infant school, we noticed a huge affect on his happiness and wellbeing, and we realised that the opportunities for him to learn and grow were severely affected. He was in an enormous class of 29, with varying ranges of abilities, special needs and limited resources, and could only ever have been one of a number, despite the dedication of the teaching staff. After a serious accident on play equipment in his school playground that was poorly maintained and poorly supervised, we made the difficult decision to move him to the local independent school, where he's in a class of 19, is happy and has regained some of the childhood innocence. It's not easy paying school fees but the difference in my son is marked and I'd rather pay the money to see him smiling and happy than pay for a luxury foreign holiday every year. I don't consider myself immoral because I've chosen to give my son the opportunities and day to day happiness he deserves.
Jennie Walker, York

I do not have a moral problem with sending children to fee-paying schools. As several others have commented, it helps to focus the mind on the commitment required from all parties. The state system is fine if you fit into the "average" bracket. One of my sons is very bright, but has a learning difficulty. The state system refuses to acknowledge this, as he is just managing to achieve his age specific targets. There is no facility in the state system for those in his position. He is forced to be average for his age, when he could be so much more. The local independent school is prepared to work with him and us to overcome his problems and he is already achieving far more than previously. For him, and probably for thousands of others, fee-paying schools are the only option.
Rachel, Bedford. U.K.

Anthony Seldon would do better to place his 'immoral' tag on parents who have no interest in their children's education.
Colin, UK
Anthony Seldon would do better to place his 'immoral' tag on parents who have no interest in their children's education. Is it immoral to move house to avoid poorly performing schools with disruptive or violent pupils? Mr Seldon's criticizes parents for spending money to move to a different catchment area, but not for spending money on private education! There seems to be a fair degree of hypocrisy here.
Colin, UK

Where we live, we do not fall into the catchment area of any secondary school! When we were asked to choose our five preferred schools, it was a waste of time because they filled up with pupils who lived nearer than we did. Birmingham City Council ignored all the population data which told them they would need more secondary school places in September 2003. Move to a better area to get better schooling? Why should we? Every child should get a decent education. Tony Blair has failed us - he has broken his promises with record speed. Education in Britain is a farce! As for top-up fees...
Adrian Martin, Birmingham, UK

Education should be free at the point of use for as long as an individual is capable of making use of it. How can we expect people to raise to their potential if we do not educate them? Tough entry tests should ensure that the education isn't wasted, at either University or Secondary School level. The fairest way of paying for this is through income tax.
Don Hughes, Basingstoke, UK

Here we go - It's only one week after the university "top-up" fees vote and already ideas are being touted about introducing means tested fees for state schools! How long will it be before the Government argues that this is the only fair way to fund state education?
Paul H, London

When the system starts caring about how well children learn, then parents won't feel the need to move schools
Jo, Bristol, UK
Every parent wants the best for their child. We did not move house to go to a better school, however, my parents struggled for 7 years to put my sister through private education because the state school that she was supposed to go to (after missing out on the grammar by 7 places), did not even offer A levels, it had that low an expectation of its pupils. Schools are failing our children, and I do not think that it is immoral to try and get the best education for your child. If this means moving house, or travelling long distances so that you can go to a school where you are not beaten up for doing your homework and actually wanting to learn (my experience), then so be it. When the system starts caring about how well children learn, then parents won't feel the need to move schools.
Jo, Bristol, UK

The only thing that is "immoral" is the wide ranging and differing standards between the different state schools. My husband and I scrimp and save, making huge sacrifices to send both our children to prep-schools - we're not snobs - we are just caring parents who invest both time and money into ensuring our children get the best start.
Many of the parents that we talk to are doing exactly the same thing and plan to send their children back to the state system at age 11 when they will hopefully have a passion for learning that will see them through the rest of their educational career. Is it immoral to want the best for your own child? I don't think so.
SH, UK

There is no difference morally to me to moving into an area because you perceive it to be a better area, and moving to an area because you perceive it to have a better school. Taxation no longer gives us free higher education. If it won't give us free secondary education either, what exactly will it give us?
Helen Forker, Bristol, UK

Moving just to get children into a better school is a bit dubious but if I had to relocate due to a change of job then being close to a suitable school would be one of the criteria involved in the move. However, with proper parental support a child can do well whatever the school. Those who pay a property premium for a better school are probably wasting money when investing a bit more time and interest in their children would give better value for money.
Dave, Cambridge UK

I don't agree with the immoral statement, I have a 2 and a half year old and because he was born at the end of August this means he will start school just after his 4th birthday, my wife and I are on a normal wage (17K-ish between two) but we have two options one is move to an area with better schools or pay for education for him. The schools where I live have had such bad OFTED reports that there is no way I'm sending my son to them. I would rather pay silly house prices or the cost of private education than send my son to a failing school, I don't see my self as trying to "squeeze and twist the system" to get my son into the best state school. What I am trying to do is give my son the chance of a good education.
Jason Pearce, Portsmouth, Hampshire

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