Thursday, 10th September 2015

by Joshua Gaskell

The original distinction between a public and a private school (before there was a state sector) was between, respectively, a school ‘founded or endowed for public use and subject to public management’ and a school ‘run for the personal profit of the proprietors’ (OED). As is noted in the current Private Eye, the distinction in this sense is now ‘largely a matter of history and snobbery’. But history is liable to repeat itself, and I wonder whether the distinction will reanimate, but with regard to state schools. Historically, like the public schools of old, they’ve been founded for public use and subject to public management (through local education authorities). Now though, academies and free schools have private sponsors, and a sceptic would say that a battle over their being run for the profit of these sponsors will inevitably have to be fought. At such a time, the historical public–private snobbery might be usefully cultivated.