@RSAMatthew provides a summary of last night’s Moral Maze on private education in today's blogpost For goodness sake, just be selfish ! (Feb 2013). He expands upon a point he mentioned briefly on the programme, which is the way in which private schools and their supporters damage society by distorting public perceptions of education.
What wasn't mentioned on the programme was the inflationary effect of private schools. If state schools offer four A-levels as standard, then private schools will push their pupils to take five A-levels, plus Duke of Edinburgh Award, plus Grade 8 bassoon, creating the illusion that their pupils are (a) better qualified than state school pupils and (b) have received a better education. (Meanwhile some middle class comprehensives have reintroduced Latin GCSE, simply in an effort to keep up with parents' demands.) The idea is presumably to trick Oxbridge into accepting these kids, and obviously it sometimes works. Marginal differences in educational outcomes are thus converted into significant differentiators.
In other words, the defacto standards of "good education" are being set by the private sector and the middle classes. I'm not saying that any Government would do it any better. One person on the programme pointed out the undervaluing of creative subjects like dance, and I've heard Sir Ken Robinson talking eloquently about this. Next time the Moral Maze discusses education, I hope they get him to articulate an alternative view of what counts as a "good education".
Boris Johnson, At last, an Oxbridge for those who can’t get into Oxbridge (Telegraph June 2011)
Ken Robinson, Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity (TED Talks 2006)