Does a private school education lead to a better career?

Does a private school education lead to a better career?

It’s long been thought that children educated at private schools go on to have more successful, higher-paid careers. But is that really true? Does a private education bring long-term benefits to your child’s work – and life?

On the one hand, there are many excellent state schools across the country where children achieve outstanding results. They go on to pursue a university education and have successful careers.

On the other hand, the 6-7% of pupils who go to private school are far more likely to get a place at Oxford or Cambridge Universities than their state school counterparts – around 30% of Oxbridge places go to privately educated students. A private school education also gives more favourable odds for your child holding a position in the cabinet or chairing a FTSE 100 company.

And it’s not just business and politics. When we look across the arts, many leading actors and musicians are from privately educated backgrounds

Why should this be? Let’s find out about the benefits of attending an independent school, and how they can translate into a better career for your child.

A group of school pupils sitting on chairs in a circle and having a discussion with a teacher.

Under the microscope: the link between private school education and career success

Several studies have investigated the relationship between private schooling and career success. They show an advantage for those children from independent education – they’re likely to achieve higher results than students from a similar background who attend a state school.

However, some studies suggest it’s a child’s personality that makes the most difference, and that independent schools simply pick the children with the right attributes for success. Interestingly, when drawing a comparison between selective fee-paying schools and state grammar schools, the gaps in attainment close.

Although better universities vie for students with higher grades, it’s still a surprise to see just how many places at top unis go to those who’ve benefitted from a private education – with the top 8 private schools outweighing almost 3,000 other schools for places. Access to a good university is a clear advantage of private education, and leads to better careers.

Benefits of a private school education

Private schools are extremely successful in helping students reach their potential – whether that’s the highest grades, sporting attainment or prowess in the arts. Excellence in learning at independent schools comes from many factors, but arguably the biggest impact comes from class size and access to resources.

Small but perfectly formed

Class sizes in independent schools are much smaller than those in a typical state school – there’s an average of 16 students to each teacher in UK private schools, compared with around 25 students in a state school. At the most elite private schools, the teacher-student ratio is even smaller, with schools like Harrow providing one teacher to every five pupils

Why does this matter? When a child’s in a smaller class, they get more individual attention from their tutor. The teacher can monitor their progress more closely, tailoring lessons to suit each child and spotting when a student needs extra support.

With smaller class sizes there are fewer distractions and behavioural problems, so pupils can engage with their studies and enjoy learning. And when children love their learning, they achieve better results.

By the time they get to A-levels, the learning advantage in independent schools translates to private school students achieving two grades higher in exams than a child in state education – that’s the difference between straight As, and an A and two Bs.

Naturally, results like these influence the calibre of university a student can access.

Resourceful: private schools are packed with facilities

Private schools are funded by school fees, not by the state. With the freedom to set their own fees independent schools can afford to invest in incredible learning resources.

From swimming pools to studios, science labs to stables, private schools have plenty of facilities to inspire children in all kinds of subjects. And since fewer pupils share the resources, each student gets far more hands-on time to develop their skills.

With more confidence and experience in their chosen field of study, privately educated students are likely to perform better at interviews for both university and jobs. Understandably, this gives an advantage on the career ladder.

Drawbacks of a Private School Education

The advantages of a private school education sound too good to miss, don’t they? But you need to be aware of the potential downsides of a private education before you sign your child up.

Pale and stale in private schools

A shortcoming of a private education is sometimes claimed to be a narrow world view. Regrettably, private schools are not well known for the diversity of their student – or teaching – body.

Fortunately, the stats now show that the ethnic background of students in independent schools broadly reflects the wider population, with more than a third of all school-age children in the UK coming from a minority ethnic background.

However, there are reports of the private school sector being seriously outdated in attitude and teaching materials when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

This could hold your child back in some career avenues. So when you visit prospective independent schools, make sure diversity is high on your agenda.

High and mighty: elitism in private schools

Sadly, although private schools enable individual students to reach incredible potential, many consider that – at a wider societal level – independent education causes elitism in the UK.

There’s also the consideration that if your child is from a less privileged background, they may feel out of place around children from much wealthier families. You might face slightly uncomfortable encounters with well-meaning school friends, too! If your child feels self-conscious at school, this could affect their ability to thrive in their studies or their self-confidence.

The price of knowledge

Since independent schools are funded through school fees, a major drawback for most families is the cost of a private education in the UK.

With some schools charging almost £15,000 a term, private school fees are a significant investment. Many parents fear they’d have to give up on their goals of dream home or early retirement if they offer their child the opportunities of an independent education.

Some children are fortunate enough to secure a bursary or a scholarship to ease the school fee burden. However, since scholarships are tied to academic attainment, they can put immense pressure on a child to perform. This could easily become counter-productive for their learning and well-being.

The perceived pressure of school fees sometimes causes parents to abandon the idea of private schooling before they’ve investigated their financial position fully. And that means their child misses out on the amazing possibilities of a private education and the high-flying career that could follow.

A pile of books and a piggy bank.

Other factors affecting career success

Naturally, not all career success is down to independent schooling; there are other influences at play. A child’s socioeconomic background, personality, and the encouragement they receive from family members all have an impact on a child’s progress. It isn’t just about the school they attend.

Unfortunately, gender and ethnicity could also play a part in your child’s future success. Young women entering the workplace earn less than their male colleagues, and the gap widens as their careers progress. Despite having been less likely than other ethnic groups to go to university, White graduates subsequently have higher employment rates than Black or Chinese graduates

Ensuring career success for your child

There will be many influences that determine the career path your child takes. Some, like their socioeconomic background or ethnicity, are factors outside their control. Others, like the quality of their education and attitude to learning, can be improved to boost their chances of a better career.

Career success is too often defined simply in terms of a job title or a paycheque. But it’s important for parents to remember that your child’s more likely to secure a great career if they can pursue their interests in a supportive and inspiring environment.

If an independent school is where they’re best placed to develop their skills and make the most of the facilities on offer, it’ll set your child on a path to a better career – whether that means a high-profile title or high job satisfaction.

Keep the drawbacks of a private education in mind too – choosing a school should be based on your child’s happiness, not just a better career. So don’t enrol your child in a school that won’t suit their personality or interests.

And if school fees feel like a barrier to your child’s dreams, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you can afford. Talk to us to understand how financial planning can give your child an education that’ll help them pursue a career they’ll love.