The Public and Private Sectors Must Work Together Post-Covid
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
The British Education system is considered one of the best in the world; results of the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, found that out of around 80 countries, students from the UK ranked in the top 14 for reading and science and the top 18 for mathematics. Despite this, the British Education sector is often the topic of hot debate and controversy, with private schools being blamed for the widening attainment gap between pupils, and Grammar schools being criticised for being divisive and limiting social mobility.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the government has been working hard to protect the Education sector with initiatives such as the National Tutoring Programme and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisting that all pupils will return to school for the autumn term. While there is no doubt that the impact of the pandemic will be felt across the sector, it is private schools that will perhaps be hit the hardest. Since 2010, 32 private schools have moved into the state sector, a broad social experiment that Melissa Benn believes "has fresh relevance for a private-sector facing a severe economic battering because of the coronavirus pandemic". In the past few months, many independent schools have closed their doors entirely, including Boris Johnson's old prep school Ashdown House. Benn thinks that it "seems certain" more and more private schools will relinquish their independence and open their doors to state-funded pupils. Still, critics are resistant to the idea of bailing out a failing private sector using public money.
It is perhaps more useful to view this move from independence to state-funded by looking at what it can offer pupils and their communities. There is little evidence to suggest this move will result in a watering down of academic standards and quality of education. Conversely, research conducted by Sol Gamsu of Durham University found that "secondary schools that have converted almost all have lower proportions of disadvantaged students than other local state schools" 2. The research showed schools will still be able to offer the very same standard of education – the difference is that now, access to this education will be available to a more diverse pool of students.
The first and perhaps most prominent example of the public and private sector banding together in the face of the pandemic is the introduction of the government's National Tutoring Programme whereby private tutoring companies are receiving government funding to tutor pupils at state schools. This is an initiative to reduce the attainment gap and supplement the loss of education caused by school closures that will overwhelmingly affect pupils from underprivileged backgrounds. Private 1:1 and small group tutoring has been proven to be highly effective in boosting students' progress, but access to it by students at state schools has been limited to non-existent due to costs. The NTP seeks to rectify this in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rather than becoming preoccupied with the on-going tension between the public and private education sectors, we need to consider the best outcome for all students, as well as job retention education continuity. The only way to do this is for the public and private sectors to work together to ensure an educational experience that is as seamless as possible. After all, school operates as a sanctuary for many pupils, and in this time of anxiety and uncertainty, the Education sector's main priority should be the wellbeing of the children, regardless of socio-economic background.
 Schleichler, A., 2018. PISA 2018 - Insights And Interpretations. [online] Oecd.org. Available at: <https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA%202018%20Insights%20and%20Interpretations%20FINAL%20PDF.pdf> [Accessed 22 July 2020].
 Benn, M., 2020. 'Only a zealot would oppose': should the UK nationalise struggling private schools?. The Guardian, [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/jul/18/only-a-zealot-would-oppose-should-the-uk-nationalise-struggling-private-schools> [Accessed 23 July 2020].