The Economist covers the Sutton Trust’s Extra Time report in an article about private education.
The private sector is also filling gaps in provision for children’s early years. Enrolment in pre-school education varies widely, even in rich countries. Most countries mandate formal education only from age five or six onwards, but attitudes are changing as the early years are increasingly seen as the most crucial period in the development of the human brain. Across the oecd, preschool attendance among under-threes rose from 18% to 33% between 2005 and 2016, and among three- to five-year-olds from 76% to 86%. Last year France announced it would make enrolment from age three compulsory. But governments are not keen to take on extra financial burdens, so in most places the extra demand is being met largely by the private sector.
Wealthy people will spend heavily to buy their children an early advantage, as demonstrated by Cognita’s new “early-learning village” in Singapore, which will eventually cater for 2,100 children aged 18 months to six years. Facilities include 114 outside spaces, one for each classroom, and nine playdecks equipped with pirate ships, tricycle tracks and suchlike. The classrooms are arranged in groups of four, each with a central space to create a sense of community. “The building develops with the children,” says Adam Paterson, one of the centre’s two headteachers. “They move through it as they grow.” Fees range from $14,832 ($8,393) to $35,610 a year.
Demand for education outstrips public-sector supply not just in the early years but at core school age as well. The state may provide it five days a week, but many parents cannot get enough of it, so the private sector supplements it in the evenings, at the weekends and in the holidays. A survey by Ipsos mori for the Sutton Trust showed that the share of British children who had had private tuition rose from 18% in 2005 to 30% in 2017. And British children get off relatively lightly, with an average of ten hours’ extra tuition a week, compared with 12 in China, 15 in South Korea and 16 in Bulgaria.