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Chris McGovern: No amount of money guarantees academic success


For all the deficiencies of the British education system it is still possible for parents to place their child in a good school. This is best done, in most cases, by spending money. Either you buy a house in the catchment area of a successful school or you go private. Unfair as it is, this remains a sad truth about contemporary Britain. A small minority will, also, have the grammar school option but that, too, may be dependent on having the financial resources to engage a private tutor.

The most important educational advantage of all, however, cannot be purchased – intelligence. You cannot, currently, buy brains. This is a stark fact that some parents with money to spend find hard to accept. “I have paid my money and I expect results,” is a refrain with which most head teachers in the private sector will be familiar. It has surfaced as news story this week at Abbotsholme independent school in Staffordshire. A disgruntled dad is planning to sue the school because, last year, his son achieved just one GCSE ‘pass’. The father concerned wants a refund of the £125,000 he shelled out in fees over the years. Having worked as a truck driver in the Middle East to raise the cash he feels that his son deserved better:

“I paid for five years for David to go to Abbotsholme. David was disheartened when he got his results. He said, ‘you spent all that money on my education and I walk away with one GCSE’. I sent David to Abbotsholme but in my opinion the school is not value for money in any way, shape or form.”

Dad might be even more disgruntled if he ever finds out the GCSE grade C Science that his son did achieve would have zero status in the most successful educational systems around the world. Poor dad! All that money and all his son gets to show for it is a certificate of incompetence.

Abbotsholme school may or may not have had a part to play in this boy’s failure to do better. It is possible, of course, if unlikely, that the single pass represents ‘success’ for the youngster concerned. It is equally possible that the pupil concerned was responsible himself for any under-achievement. One wonders, though, how far the school kept the father informed about the child’s progress. Poor results are common enough but they should not come ‘out of the blue’.

The school has acknowledged that, last year, “our results were not as good as in previous years, and have taken a number of steps this year – and for future years – to reverse this situation.” An independent schools inspection report from a few years ago stated that the school is “exceptionally successful in achieving its aims” but observes that “occasionally lessons are less successful.”

It is quite possible that the pupil concerned underachieved and that the Abbotsholme did not maximise his potential.  Suing a school for an individual pupil’s academic underperformance is, however, both ill-advised and futile. The parent’s anger and frustration may or may not be justified in this case but, ultimately, all parents need to understand that no amount of money, of itself, will buy academic success.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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