Answer one question. Explain your reasoning, using additional paper if necessary. When you are finished, hand your paper in to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.
It costs £9,360 (not including music lessons, fencing and boat club membership) to send 15-year-old Toby to Eton for the three-month Michaelmas term. It costs the state an average of £9,777 (not including the cost of his crime) to send Karl to a young offenders institute for three months for committing a string of car thefts.
Why doesn’t the state send Karl to the nation’s premier school, expand his horizons somewhat and pocket the difference to pay back the national debt?
It really is that simple. The issue that this mathematical exercise highlights cuts right to the heart of modern social policy and ought to make any liberal extremely uneasy in their defence of the state as the ultimate provider of services in the children’s sector.
We hold no torch for the private education system, and believe that such issues as the charitable status of private schools – which saves them almost £100m a year in tax breaks – is an anomaly that is unacceptable for organsations that charge so much yet provide so little service to the wider community.
Yet we feel that there must be something at play when schools are able to protect, house, teach, exercise and entertain children at a lower rate than the state – and make a profit while doing it. Surely we should be open enough to accept the ideas of the private sector into state activities when they seem to be working. (OK, as the shadow cabinet proves, attendance at Eton is no guarantee against anti-social behaviour, but you get our drift.)
The statistical truth is that passage through such institutions as Eton can only bring good things into the life of a youth. The opportunities, be they on the sporting field, where the virtues of teamwork could be inculcated, in the classroom or just in an environment where routine and clear responsibilities would be a new world to children who have been failed by the pastoral care of the state, are legion.
Bringing young men with next to no opportunities into their life into such a system as Eton offers is a no-brainer, on both sides. The programme would also lead to a greater understanding of wider society for Eton pupils, and could foster some much needed community spirit among a generation of future hedge funders and politicians.
To any complaints that the figures are not equivalent, consider this. The £3,259 a month (£40,000 a year) that the state must find to look after young offenders is averaged out from children in secure facilities and in the community, so the median individual is not a murderer in a high-security unit needing top level care which a private school couldn’t provide. And to accusations of social engineering, we plead guilty.
As ever, we welcome you thoughts and suggestions…