Is private schooling worth it?

April 16, 2012

Being in the education policy sector of an administration looking after the highest proportion of non-government funded private schools anywhere in the world, this question plagues my mind. And so reading this article recently from the Sydney Morning Herald on the worth of private education sparked my interest for a number of reasons.

Firstly, consider the sums of money spent on exclusive private schools for a student in Sydney; around 25 t0 30,000 dollars or about 100,000 dirhams.

Secondly, it’s the reasons why parents choose to send their kids to private schools and it’s similar anywhere in the world.  It’s so that their son or daughter is around kids of a similar or better socio-economic status and who they feel that they want to be with and away from the riff-raff.  Like this quote “a good school for my child is one where minorities are in the minority”.  It’s also about the quality of teaching and in particular, about how private schools will get rid of underperforming teachers.

Thirdly, it’s about better customer service from private schools.  Fee paying customers are more likely to get a more favourable reception from the school than in the public system.  Teachers are more responsive.

Fourthly, waiting lists are very fluid and many parents choose to register their child at multiple schools, just like here in Dubai.  Some schools in some areas are very hard to get into but flexibility is an option so that even if your child cannot get into a school now, chances are that in later years there is still a strong possibility.

Yet these items mask the point that even though private school students perform better than their public school peers, once socio-economic factors are taken into consideration, the differences are not statistically significant.  Take a similar kid with similar parental backgrounds, upbringing and income and place him/her in a public school, chances are that their results will be about the same.

So, is private schooling worth it?  As with everything it comes down to capacity to pay, perceived value for money and choice.  For many parents, it’s the only choice and little Johnny will get the best possible opportunity to excel and make the appropriate connections to the right people.  Yet, as with many things in life, it’s just about creating an environment for something to happen whether that is academic excellence, appropriate relationships or sporting prowess.  To what extent these things really matter is up to the student and other factors outside of the school environment such as how much the parents encourage and support their child and involve themselves in their education as much as the type of school that the child attends.