Could this be true? There is some evidence that private schools are finding it hard and converting to free schools. Two other high profile examples are QEGS Blackburn and Kings Tynemouth. Other schools have closed and consolidated under economic pressure, as this article in the Daily Mail shows.
But does this really mean the end of private schools? It seems unlikely. The TES reports that only 9 private schools have become free schools. The Independent School Census (2013) shows the number of pupils in 1,200 UK private schools has dropped by only 0.3% this year (p.7) and there are 9% more private school pupils that there were in 1996. A separate survey by the ISC (Attitudes Towards Independent Schools (2012)) showed that the percentage of people who would send their children to private school if they could afford it has reached the highest level seen - 57%.
Why is this, despite the massive investment by Labour into schools and the hard work of state school teachers? Here are three reasons...
1. Parents are encouraged to choose: Labour encouraged parents to look around and this has continued under Michael Gove. However, it has also paradoxically made many parents critically appraise the offerings of state schools, and realise they may not get into the 'best' state schools. As parents spend more time looking they start considering the private sector.
2. Parents want small class sizes and individual attention: When parents are asked why they want to send their children to private schools, research shows that what they most want are small class sizes and individual attention for their children (even if this is found to be a relatively poor way of improving overall achievement). Successful, over-subscribed state schools almost always have Y7 classes of 30 and most have tutor groups of the same size. Many private school parents I've met feared their children would be 'lost' in state schools.
3. Private schools are better at marketing. Teaching may be better in state schools. State school pupils may do better at university. Some private schools may just be exam factories. But the best private schools spend time and money creating the stories that resonate with parents and communicating with them. The gap may close in the future as faced with greater competition, state schools (and especially academy chains) improve their marketing and attract more parents and students, but is isn't likely to disappear.
So, how will 'fee-paying' stop?
What if Lord Adonis meant something different? We do tend to equate 'fee-paying' with private, but there is another way... enter school vouchers!
The changing views of parents above seem set to increase the likelihood of educational vouchers being introduced. While this may seem a further step too far for those working in schools, consider that parents already have the choice of where to spend their childcare vouchers for 3-year-olds, and can 'top-up' with private providers. Is it much of a step to imagine politicians extending this to older children? There have been a steady stream of reports by right-leaning think-tanks urging this approach - for example here are the arguments of the 'Centre for the Market Reform of Education' in the Telegraph. Many US states have used vouchers for a long time. There are an increasing number of 'hybrid' private-state academy chains such as the Girls School Day Trust that span both private and public sectors.
A voucher system would allow all schools to compete with each other in a transparent way. While the very idea of vouchers, and especially the top-up element, seems to fly against the principles of UK education for the past few years, it is worth noting that so does the whole idea of academies and free schools!
Whatever your views on the educational merit of vouchers, perhaps in 10 years Lord Adonis will be right and there will be no 'fee-paying' schools as we have now. But there will be plenty of private ones. And we will all have to get used to another brave new world...