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Stressed, depressed and unimpressed

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I recently read Owen Jones’ Guardian article titled “Our private school elite’s dominance isn’t just unfair. It damages us all”. Jones argues that by privileging those who can afford to pay for private education, the rich dominate our society, exacerbating cycles of wealth and poverty.

Having attended a private school, I agree with Owen Jones’ article completely. However, most people I know, from both private and state school backgrounds, believe that private schools are a superior institution that give their students the best quality of life. In my experience, this is not necessarily true.

After being admitted to hospital for a suicide attempt, I found myself still continuing to revise…terrified of failure

My experience at a private secondary school was generally positive, and I doubt I would have achieved my place at Warwick without it. However, there are definitely downsides to a private education; most significantly is the high pressure on its students to do well.

I’m not for one minute implying that mental health problems or high pressure to achieve are exclusive to private schools, but at private schools, there’s the constant voice in the back of your mind reminding you that someone is paying for you to be there, so if you don’t perform well, you’re not making a worthwhile turnover for their investment. Sometimes it feels like private schools care more about the statistics for their website and the number of A*s achieved in exam season than the wellbeing of their pupils.

Having struggled with mental health problems for the majority of my secondary school career, the pressure to perform well became too much at times

There’s no denying today’s students are under more pressure than ever, with a more competitive job market and social media usage at an all time high. A report from the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference in 2015 reported that there had been an unprecedented rise of eating disorders, self-harm, and depression at private schools.

Having struggled with mental health problems for the majority of my secondary school career, the pressure to perform well became too much at times: I remember being in Year 11 and, after being admitted to hospital for a suicide attempt, I found myself still continuing to revise for my upcoming French oral, terrified at the prospect of failure.

In my sixth form, it was generally expected that you would go to university after completing A-Levels. We had countless talks about how to fill out a UCAS form and how to prepare for university interviews, but barely anything about apprenticeships, gap years, or starting a career.

they can be a hot bed of pressure where students are solely defined by their exam results

There was a lack of support for people considering alternatives; a friend of mine who wanted to go to drama school had to complete her entire application with next to no help as no staff in the school had any understanding of the process.

Ultimately, private schools have various pros and cons and I’m sure the debate about them will be ongoing. Although it is very easy to place them on a pedestal, they can be a hot bed of pressure where students are solely defined by their exam results and the place they obtain at university.

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