Toby Young: It’s official – private schools are a waste of money

Responding to the Social Market Foundation study we reported yesterday, it looks like Toby Young has done the same sums* I did which appear to show the value of a private education is less obvious than the headlines suggest (although he has expressed it somewhat more forcefully than I did!!). This is from the Telegraph

new study by the Social Market Foundation shows that children educated privately earn more than those educated at state schools – an average of £193,700 more between the ages of 26 and 42, to be precise. This has been reported almost everywhere as yet more evidence of the advantage conferred on children who attend private schools (see this article on BBC News, for instance.)

But buried within the detail of the study – as the Telegraph has noticed – is the fact that this premium falls to just £57,653 once family background and cognitive ability are taken into account. That is to say, if you take two children from identical backgrounds and with exactly the same level of intelligence and send one to a private school and the other to a state school, the one educated privately will earn £57,653 more between the ages of 26 and 42 than the one who went to a state school. That’s an average of £3,600 a year, which is considerably less than the average private school fees – £12,153 for a day school and £27,600 for a boarding school.

So it’s official. Educating your child at a private school is a waste of money – a colossal waste of money if you send them to a boarding school. Your child would be better off if you sent them to the local state school, invested the money you would have spent on school fees in low-risk bonds and handed them a lump sum at the age of 18. If you were thinking of sending them to Eton, they might even be able to afford the deposit on a flat in Shepherd’s Bush…

I share the Sutton Trust’s concern about the role private schools play in enabling the moneyed elite to secure lucrative careers for their children at the expense of more able children from less privileged backgrounds. But the solution is not to cream skim the most gifted children from the bottom 40 per cent of household incomes and pack them off to private schools. Rather, it’s to improve state schools. The very best state schools, such as Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, confer the same advantages on their pupils as good independent schools. We should be aiming to make every state school as good as Mossbourne, not admitting defeat and trying to extend access to private schools…

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*Here are my bleary-eyed sums from yesterday morning:

By my quick and dirty sums, from a purely financial perspective, these figures seem to suggest that a private education is a roughly neutral transaction – costing about £120,000 in fees (based on £10k a year for 12 years) but resulting in earning an additional £2.5k per year (based on the additional adjusted salary at 42 figures) which would be just under £120,000 over a 47 year career (assuming work from 18 to 65)

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Categories: Private Schools.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Have long since ignored everything toadmeister says as he begs for attention in the media, whether he has a point or not

  2. JeniHooper

    SchoolsImprove private education is about more than academic results. Parents hope to confer social advantage. #socialsilos

  3. Janet2

    Rather muddled.  First he says private schools don’t confer an advantage then he says the best state schools confer the same advantage as private schools.

    But he’s behind the data.  When PISA results were published in 2010, the organisation behind the tests (OECD) said UK private school outperformed UK state schools BUT when socio-economic background was taken into account the situation reversed: UK state schools outperformed private ones.

    It’s here in “Viewing the UK School System through the Prism of PISA”:

  4. CParkinson535

    SchoolsImprove I imagine that if the state schools “improve” then Independent schools will also improve too. Standards raised all around.

  5. jessica10510

    SchoolsImprove it depends on the child, plus parents dont send their kids to them just for better earnings

  6. Eduk8tor101

    JeniHooper SchoolsImprove Absolutely. Control the environment— i.e., the students around one’s child. Start the networking…

  7. FionaTipper

    JeniHooper SchoolsImprove Wow! Massive generalisation!! Parents use many criteria to decide best for individual child. Not all snobbery!

  8. The shocking waste of resources (private and public) that characterises the “successes” of private eduction needs no grubby measure of pay scale or exam grades. Just glance around the shiny-faced crowds who over-fill the great offices in Parliament, Banks and Board Rooms. The detriment those alumni bring to public life is far more serious than any squandering of their parents’ incomes.

  9. Gr33nw00d

    SchoolsImprove Get rid of private and just raise the standard of state education. #SimpleAnswer #GoodForAll

  10. TeaLadyJune

    SchoolsImprove Value of education should not just be based on earnings. I’d like to see data on % people who are in jobs they want to do.

  11. EducatinEngland

    I wanted independence from governmental whim & edu-fashions – to do works for the pupils & not change tactics every time someone from the DfE goes on a conference/reads a poorly-researched edu-article. Maybe some private-school parents want the same.

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