Education & Family

Should wealthy parents pay state school fees?

Anthony Seldon
Image caption Dr Seldon is headmaster at Wellington College

Parents who earn a combined income of more than £80,000 should have to pay if their children go to the most popular state schools, a report suggests.

Private school headmaster Dr Anthony Seldon said it would break "the middle-class stranglehold on top state schools" and provide additional funds.

In the report, Dr Seldon, who is head of the private school Wellington College, argues a "new wave" of radical education reform is needed to end the educational divide between state and independent schools and boost social mobility.

BBC website readers including parents and teachers have been getting in touch to share their opinions. Here is a selection of their comments.

Your comments

State schools are financed through taxation. So parents who earn more money already pay more into the state school system. To tax someone twice for the right to an education (a basic right) is morally dubious and in opposition to the inclusive principle of the state run education system. Dr Seldon has got this fundamentally wrong. In truth, the biggest influence on a child's education is their parents' attitude to their child's education. If all parents could instil a self-belief and self-motivation in their children to succeed in school then there wouldn't be an "unfair gap". To suggest that money alone is the problem is lazy and incorrect thinking. The answer is to educate the parents first in parenting skills, before their children reach schooling age. Andrew Grigg, Sussex

I agree with the findings. I along with many of my middle class friends have tutored our children for the 11 plus. This makes a mockery of the grammar school system which I understood was founded to help clever children from poorer families achieve a good education. The grammar school system needs to stay, but the qualification criteria needs to change, it should be based on the children's academic ability throughout Key Stage 1 and 2, not an exam that they can be prepped for. I don't think that middle classes should be excluded from the grammar schools so I think the idea that they pay fees is great. Kate Melling, Halifax

I fail to see why a report written by a man who has limited knowledge and experience of state sector education is given any credence whatsoever. His definition of a middle class income is laughably out of touch, £80,000! Our household income of half of that from two adults working full time (one as a teacher, one as a teaching assistant) qualifies us for neither middle class status nor low income according to Dr Seldon. So where does that leave our two children? Happily, at a local school where they mix with a wide variety of children from different backgrounds and differing academic abilities. Until the underlying causes of "two nation" education (poverty, lack of opportunity and parents who have received a poor education themselves) are tackled, suggestions such as Dr Seldon's will continue to be laughably out of touch. Emma Wayman, Norwich

Image copyright PA

As a secondary school teacher who works in the state sector, I feel Dr Seldon's report has the potential to cause significant harm to our education system. The problem he identifies is real. I have worked in schools which are outstanding and dominated by middle class children. Equally, I have worked in schools not far away where standards are lower and the intake is less wealthy. However, his solution would cause further privatisation of education. It's obvious; forcing parents to pay for state education is more likely to encourage them to pay fees at a school where there is a sense you will actually get something extra for your money. In order for schools to succeed three ingredients are needed; excellent teachers and head teachers who understand the needs of the children, parents who proactively support and engage with what their children are learning about, and children who understand the importance of learning, who want to learn and are able to behave appropriately in classrooms. R Jennings, London

I agree with observations made by Dr Sheldon. In Kent the grammar schools are dominated by children who have had private education in their early years. When it comes to spaces at the best schools many of the children from poorer backgrounds miss out to those whose parents can move closest to the best schools and afford coaching and tutors. We paid to have our daughters coached for the 11 plus as they would have been competing for one of approx 140 places at the local grammar against girls who went to private school, who were coached and had private tutors. I would be prepared to pay based on earnings if it would mean brighter children from poorer backgrounds get the same opportunity at age 11. Perhaps the best state schools should also allocate spaces to children based on ability and family income, with those on the lowest income being offered the best schools. BBC News website reader

What a ludicrous suggestion. We pay taxes to fund state schools. If an additional fee were introduced I would put my children into private school and pay the difference. Working parents care about their children's futures and strive to help them achieve all they can. Having worked in schools, in areas of deprivation, I know that parents are at fault and additional charges won't make any difference in narrowing the gap. This is a societal problem which must be addressed at the root of the problem or the cycle will continue for generations. Emma, Sheffield

Having worked in the independent sector all my teaching career, I believe that the culture of entitlement through payment would be a very negative result if Dr Seldon's plans are put into place. Already we, as teachers in private schools, feel we are held to account by parents who see the fact that they are paying as a legitimate reason to interfere and, in some extreme cases, bully staff. This is as a direct result of increasing numbers of independent school parents being "first time buyers" who are unfamiliar with the traditional expectations. Surely this would be even more the case if these plans were introduced in the state sector? Having read recently that more and more teachers are leaving the profession in the first five years, I believe that this would increase under these proposals. Julian Ludwick, Oxford

This is the most outrageous policy. Schooling is not a voluntary activity but a legal requirement and must be available equally to all. Higher earners already are denied the child support payments and now it is suggested they pay for an education when a good state supported education should be a right regardless of what people earn. We do not fall into this earning category but never the less I feel strongly that our son should attend a state school and not be segregated by the earnings of his parents. Of course children whose parents pay for schooling would be set apart from other children, the exact reverse of what a comprehensive education should do. It simply creates a two tier system within the state sector. Maddy Aldis-Evans, Bicester

As a secondary school teacher I absolutely agree with Anthony Seldon's findings. The whole purpose of state education should be to enable those who are most under privileged to aspire to achieve their very best. With the pressure on school results under the current climate, schools have absolutely no incentive to support the less able or poorest children. State education no longer serves the majority, consequently the state system is as divisive and as tiered as its private counterpart. In some cases fee paying schools are doing more to support social mobility than tax payer funded state schools. Gary Holman, Andover

I have two children who are three and one. I already have to pay extensive nursery fees which represents a quarter of our household income. Both my wife and I are professionals but this figure that Dr Seldon has come up with is completely out of touch. Middle-income families have already had so much taken away such as tax credits, child benefit, etc, is it fair that we now won't be able to send our children to the best state schools in our area just because we earn over an arbitrary figure that has been calculated by one man who earns way in excess of this figure? Binesh Patel, Milton Keynes

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