To pay or not to pay? Parents should make their own choice about their child’s education, but …

It seems Nick Clegg may have inadvertently opened a Pandora’s Box when speaking about his son’s education on the radio recently.

Money buys education?

Money buys good education?

Clearly to even consider whether your child should go to a private school, in the UK at least, is only a topic for those who believe they can afford the fees (or get a scholarship or bursary) and/or somehow ‘hothouse’ their children through the entrance examinations. If you are a Prince there are always exceptions of course.

The problem with Nick Clegg doing this is that he is leading on the Government’s social mobility agenda, having gone to a private school himself. So how can he mitigate against the onslaught of cries of ‘hypocrite’?

I think he should continue to maintain his right as a parent to do the best for his own unique child. No-one can take that away. Tony Blair was adamant about this despite criticism of some of his New Labour Ministers.

But at the same time he needs to re-double his efforts to ensure that the first option for all parents in England to consider for their children is the maintained system. There is plenty of choice nowadays with different types of institution catering for different types of student, though of course this depends where you live and what price of property you can afford. Many of us are concerned about the full implications of the ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ approach to education, but it looks like the process won’t stop for at least the next 2-and-a-bit years of Coalition Government.

This very week there has been extensive analysis of school and college performance tables in England to see whether new style academies, free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools are producing real benefits for all types of student. See this synthesis for example. So parents also have considerable information to hand – my advice is always look at the latest Ofsted report for a school you are interested in and then make sure you speak with the Head Teacher or someone fairly senior – the more open they are with you, the more likely the school will reflect this ethos in the way it operates. is a great example of such transparency.

But the main point to make apart from those above, is the fact that schools need to be providing the right information, advice and guidance to students from an early enough age (at least Y8?), about the right subjects and careers matched to particular levels of achievement and aspiration. Not just a medical route because that’s what their families want.

This is not easy and requires courage and integrity on the part of all involved.

Here is where Nick Clegg could really show an example to his son.