Teachwell | Parents and Children as Consumers (Updated)
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Parents and Children as Consumers (Updated)

By Paul de Jong (http://www.start.me) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Paul de Jong (http://www.start.me) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I read the following article yesterday (here) in which Anthony Seldon, the outgoing head of Wellington College, stated his opinion on narcissistic parents who were hindering rather than supporting their child’s development and how they needed to show more respect to teachers (as well as teachers showing respect themselves to pupils).


To say that the comments section was interesting is an understatement. There were a few comments, from parents who send their children to state schools, insisting that it is teachers who need to show more respect to parents and that ‘as consumers’ they should be treated better.


I had to actually stop myself from laughing. It is true that both parents and children have been encouraged to see themselves as consumers of the product that is education and that they have rights extending as a result of this.


The Oxford Dictionary defines a consumer as: A person who purchases goods and services for personal use.


So I looked into consumer rights and the government have a handy guide here explaining what your rights are as a consumer.


So can these parents exercise consumer rights?


The first hurdle for these parents would be the fact that in order to be considered a consumer you actually have to pay for the goods. Many parents feel that they are through their taxes except for the fact that whatever their contribution may be it certainly does not pay the full cost of schooling.


Those who send their children to private schools can claim to be paying for their children to be consumers, however, even here the water is muddied by the fact that private schools have charitable status which is in effect a state subsidy.


On average the cost of sending ones child to a private school is £12 000 + a year while the likes of Eton charge in the region of £30 000. The average cost of paying for children to attend state primary school still runs into £5000+ a year on average.


The original post included figures based on the contribution that parents would make based on only 12% of their tax being spent on education.


12% of tax goes on education. Parents could only pay this cost fully if they were paying £42 000 in tax. To pay this amount of tax would mean that you would be earning at least £111 000 a year. Less than 2% of UK workers earn this. As a household you would need to earn £132 000 (individually £66 000) which only the top 10% of households earn. The parents individually would need to be in the top 5% of earners. Oh and by the way this only for one child’s education at primary school, it would need to be more for secondary.


The median salary is roughly £19 000, of which you would pay £3000 in tax and 12% of that would mean that your contribution to the education bill is £360. Nowhere near the cost of sending a child to school.


However, as QT kindly pointed out below – it is unlikely that if parents had the full amount of tax to spend at their disposal that they would only spend 12% of it on education. I take that into account and while I think the figures above illustrate the point that I was trying to make in the current context, it is important to highlight what salary would be needed if parents were free to spend the tax money on their own priorities (rather than the percentage the government chooses to spend).


On the median salary of £19 000, parents would not be able to afford to send even one child to school or would have to do so in a school that was spending £2000 per year less on each pupil. In order to pay £5000 a year in tax you need to be earning £36 000.


If we go further and take into account what the figures would be if parents were able to keep both tax and national insurance then in order to fund one school place you would need to earn between £25 000 t0 £26 000 individually or as a household. That would of course mean you would have to find the money for healthcare for your family from the rest of your income. 64% of households earn less than £26 000 and therefore would be in no position at all to afford an education for their child. (Source: 2013 Average Household Income Figures).


As for the other 36%, the 18% who earn between £26 000 and £35 000 would struggle to support one child at school while also paying for private insurance, never mind the loss of all the other benefits that are afforded to parents and/or children which they would need to find the money for.


That leaves us with those earning £35000 + as a household income who would currently pay in the region of £8 000 for NI and income tax. This group would be able to send one child to school comfortable but would not be able to pay for another out of this money.


To be able to afford that you would need a household income of £42 000 + which would cut out most of the 11% earning between £35 000 and £50 000. So to be able to afford to send one child to school comfortably each year you would need to be in the top 18% of households, in order to send two to school you would need to be in the top 10%. None of this takes into account tax credits and the like as they would not exist if we were not taxed.


The reason why all children have access to education is due to the fact that people who have no children or whose children are adults contribute as much of their tax as those who do currently have children. We do so for the good of society and the children in question. As such parents, under, working or middle class, need to be a bit more grateful for the opportunity that is afforded to their children rather than walking around with a sense of entitlement.


There are those that would suggest that these children will be paying for my pension. Well the state pension will only get disproportionately lower and my own employee or private pension will contribute far more to what I will live on than what the state will give me. There are plenty of parents and their children who live off benefits and the reality is that I am better off contributing to allowing more immigrants to come over, who will actually work and pay their taxes, than subsidising children who are being brought up to believe that life on benefits is acceptable.


Furthermore one of the parents suggested that parents should be allowed to spend the money for their child’s education where they choose. I have only got two words in response – the second is off and the first is whatever expletive is favoured by the reader.


Seriously, why should any parent have access to thousands of pounds of taxpayers money to spend on children they have chosen to have. Where does such a right or entitlement even come from? Is this not completely backward, surely as taxpayers we are contributing to support parents to enable them to bring up their children, provide appropriate healthcare and an education. This is not an entitlement, it is a welfare benefit that all parents are given. It’s not ‘their’ money.


Part of me is still livid at the attitudes of such people. Even £9 000 tuition fees do not actually pay the total cost of university – look at Buckingham University which charges over £12 000 a year in fees. In the US and other countries where the state does not fund courses at all the cost runs closer to £20 000 + a year and leaving three years of university with £100 000 debt is not unheard of. Not to mention the fact that university researchers bring in money independently that pays for their research and the cost of administration of the university, which is also a subsidy to those attending university.


I am honestly at the point where i think if parents want to bring up their children to be well-rounded, empathetic, intelligent members of society then fine I am happy to contribute. If, on the other hand, they want to bring them up to be self-centred, naval gazing ignorant narcissists then they can find the money for it themselves.


Be careful what you wish for – if the parent who wanted to spend the money as he sees fit then that’s fine, he should be given exactly what he pays in tax towards education and see where that gets him. Parents need to realise that this is a two-way streak and they need to keep up their end of the bargain if they are to continue enjoying the benefits they currently do with regards to their children.


If they want to be selfish, well the other members of society (who are contributing towards the cost of bringing up their child) can play that game too. Trust me there will only be one loser but then some people need to learn the hard way what their idiocy will lead to.


Using either sets of figures, the fact remains that the vast majority of parents would not be able to afford a place in a primary school never mind a secondary. Additionally, all families with children who attempted to send their children to school would see a very steep and sharp downfall in the income and lifestyle they currently enjoy. If parents wish to be treated as consumers in the process then they may very well get their wish.. and undoubtedly regret it.

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