Why David Cameron going private doesn’t really matter

Now the private school debate has aired again as David Cameron considers a fee-paying preparatory school for his son after sending his daughter to their local state school. This has raised questions over whether there was sexist reasoning behind treating his son and daughter differently and whether it is hypocritical for state-school-promoting political figures to opt out of their own offspring enrolling in one. 

While we can appreciate the existence of the public’s watch on the words and actions of politicians, whether the Prime Minister decides to send one or two of his children to private school is not only completely uninteresting, but irrelevant. Cameron did not commit to state education for his kids and he is far from an anti-private-school preacher. What is doing well good for if you cannot even pass it down to your own children? His political message is all about spreading the privilege, after all. 

There is something to the idea that when public figures claim state sector standards are good enough for all yet choose to go independent it makes them look disingenuous. But only in cases of outright hypocrisy when notorious anti-elitists send their children to private schools. And would it really be more than a vain voter-aware veneer to pretend that having state-educated children made one more ‘down with the people’ and proved one’s faith in the state sector anyway? Cameron’s kids, like anyone’s in his position, will probably have behind the scenes private tutoring, affluent peer groups and, well, not the most humble lifestyle.

If the Prime Minister were to send both of his children to a state school it would be an insubstantial gesture and if his son and daughter attend different schools, then it is simply a private family choice for which he cannot be blamed for hypocrisy and that bears no relevance to the real debates of today. 

It is not uncommon for children in a family to be sent to different schools. The thought process being that parents witness varied personalities and abilities in their children and so they often consider different schooling types. Parents look at the information they have about the ethos of prospective schools and how they would best match and help their children be optimally happy and achieve their potential in the long-run.

On Radio 4 at the weekend there was a discussion about the implication there is some wider sexist problem signified by the prospect of the son and not the daughter of the Prime Minister attending a private school. This allusion to some patriarchal meaning is unbelievable if we are talking about the UK context and not even a gripe I have heard on Cuntry Living before. But it does remind us of more interesting questions like what might be the cause of the gender gap in education and whether boys and girls are differently affected by school quality.

In a new study released this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, this question is tackled by assessing whether the impact of schooling has different effects on brothers and sisters. It takes siblings – male and female – from different families who are attending the same schools in order to account for what already-existing differences there are between siblings. Then, from all of the observed families, it takes an average result from the girls and the boys to compare what the impact of moving to a better school was on both. It actually finds that boys benefit more than girls from attending high-quality schools.

Now this is just one of a plethora of studies highlighting that there are differences in the way opposite genders can perform in exactly the same school and saves, for another time, a lot to consider on the gender gap in education debate – but none of it relevant to David Cameron’s blown-out-of-proportion choice of school for his children.


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