There is a raging debate in Britain over whether the British Government’s move to turn some public schools into academies was astute or not.
The government’s intention was to ostensibly make schools autonomous in order to improve their service delivery. Local authorities who determine priority-spending areas for the schools, which more often than not, match the immediate needs of the schools, fund most public schools.
Proponents of the privatisation policy claim that giving the schools financial independence will drastically transform their learning outcomes as school resources will be managed internally and be directed to priority areas that directly influence academic needs.
On the other hand, the opponents of the move postulate that it is counterproductive and it is a ploy by the government to privatise education from the backdoor. They also argue that privatising schools will be a disadvantage to the less privileged in society. Best performing schools in Britain are private ones, which are largely, ‘no go zones’ for the lower class.
The question is; what then is the way forward?
It is always the government’s responsibility to provide quality education to its citizens. It is also the prerogative of the government to put in place measures to ensure that the set education standards are upheld. Running away from this duty is abdicating a critical role.
The debate all over the world is that government institutions, ranging from schools to parastatals are inefficient and unmindful of contemporary trends. The question of quality then comes in. This is where private schools beat the public ones.
Having worked in both public and private schools in different countries, I know the difference. Because private schools double as both education institutions and business enterprises, they are always conscious of their customers’ needs and expectations. They are always pressed between a rock and a hard place—either they deliver to the expectations of their clients or they lose them!
On the other hand, government schools can operate with or without many students because they largely depend on public funds. The client mindset is always absent. There is always a take it or leave it attitude. Customer care is pathetic and there is no hurry to get anything done.
When it comes to supervision, there is a very wide rift between the private and the public schools. In some very big public schools, it may be rare to meet even a head of department. The systems and structures are so loosely held together to the extent that coordination and monitoring are always nonexistent or just difficult. The result is poor quality and dismal performance.
Even the student–teacher ratio is best in private schools. The opposite is true in public schools where as many students as can come are always lumped in often dilapidated classrooms.
In other quarters, public teachers take their workstations as eating sprees. School funds are sometimes embezzled or mismanaged. This is a rare spectacle in private schools.
There needs to be greater accountability from public school managers if results are to be achieved. Privatising public institutions with a view of enhancing autonomy and greater output is unimportant.
What makes a good school is a qualified and competent teaching staff and administration. If minimum academic conditions are provided, then performance will be upped. This is the only way to end the public and private superiority debate.
Public schools are an education refuge for the poor and less privileged. However, they can become an attraction even for the propertied if well managed.