Business Law: Stephanie Conlon of Barker Gotelee examines changing times in the education sector

THE business community is well versed in both giving and getting value for money and with the current squeeze on both business and personal finances, people are looking for real value for money from those they contract with.

Many business people have traditionally opted for private schooling for their children but as most of the commercial sector fights for its market share and with decreased lending, many business owners will be turning their heads towards the state school system and wondering whether a good state school will equate to the private sector.

There are a number of state schools in Suffolk whose academic results beat the national averages. In some cases pupils attending state schools have produced better results than some private sector schools, achieving 5+ A*-C GCSEs (or equivalent) including English and mathematics GCSEs.

The Department of Education provides online figures, which are easily accessible, to make these comparisons and, whilst criticism can be levelled at league tables, there is no doubt that high-performing state schools often maintain or improve their positions year on year, making them a very attractive option for parents.

The Government maintains that parents have a choice of school within state education and point to their application process, which enables parents to choose three schools in descending order of preference.

However, this is not a real choice. Many parents would only be satisfied with the school listed first. The remaining two are often local schools that are likely to have spaces or a child’s catchment school, no matter how poor. Nevertheless, unless two “runners-up” are chosen there is a risk that an empty school some considerable distance from the family home will be allocated.

Some parents are bound to be disappointed with the state school allocated to them, but if private schooling is not an option, mounting an appeal may be worthwhile, as one in three high school appeals succeed. The key to a successful appeal is understanding the system and preparing detailed evidence on prejudice, capacity and allocation.

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As the Government fights to improve standards and new types of school, such as free schools and academies, come up with fresh ideas, more state schools are expected to attain high levels of performance, giving the private sector a run for its money.

Whilst top-performing private schools with glossy facilities are still likely to attract sufficient children to survive in harsher times, lower-performing schools, perhaps with a more niche offering, may inevitably find themselves struggling.