State school

State schools (known as public schools in some parts of the world)[note 1] are generally primary or secondary schools mandated for or offered to all children without charge, funded in whole or in part by taxation. These schools are generally inclusive (non-selective) in admitting all students within the geographical area that they serve.

While such schools are to be found in virtually every country, there are significant variations in their structure and educational programs. State education generally encompasses primary and secondary education (kindergarten to twelfth grade, or equivalent), as well as post-secondary educational institutions such as universities, colleges, and technical schools that are funded and overseen by government rather than by private entities. The position before there were government-funded schools varied: in many instances there was an established educational system which served a significant, albeit often elite, sector of the population; these systems were often funded by religious institutions. The introduction of government-organised schools was in some cases able to build upon this established system, and often both systems have continued to exist, sometimes in a parallel and complementary relationship and other times less harmoniously.

General characteristics

State education is inclusive, both in its treatment of students and in that enfranchisement for the government of public education is as broad as for government generally. It is often organised and operated to be a deliberate model of the civil community in which it functions. Although typically provided to groups of students in classrooms in a central school, it may be provided in-home, employing visiting teachers, and/or supervising teachers. It can also be provided in non-school, non-home settings, such as shopping mall space.

State education is generally available to all. In most countries, it is compulsory for children to attend school up to a certain age, but the option of attending private school is open to many. In the case of private schooling, schools operate independently of the state and generally defray their costs (or even make a profit) by charging parents tuition fees. The funding for state schools, on the other hand, is provided by tax revenues, so that even individuals who do not attend school (or whose dependents do not attend school) help to ensure that society is educated. In poverty stricken societies, authorities are often lax on compulsory school attendance because child labour is exploited. It is these same children whose income-securing labour cannot be forfeited to allow for school attendance.

The term "public education" when applied to state schools is not synonymous with the term "publicly funded education". Government may make a public policy decision that it wants to have some financial resources distributed in support of, and it may want to have some control over, the provision of private education. Grants-in-aid of private schools and vouchers systems provide examples of publicly funded private education. Conversely, a state school (including one run by a school district) may rely heavily on private funding such as high fees or private donations and still be considered state by virtue of governmental ownership and control.

State primary and secondary education often involves the following:

  1. compulsory student attendance (until a certain age or standard is achieved);
  2. certification of teachers and curricula, either by the government or by a teachers' organisation;
  3. testing and standards provided by government.

In some countries (such as Germany), private associations or churches can operate schools according to their own principles, as long as they comply with certain state requirements. When these specific requirements are met, especially in the area of the school curriculum, the schools will qualify to receive state funding. They are then treated financially and for accreditation purposes as part of the state education system, even though they make decisions about hiring and school policy (not hiring atheists, for example), which the state might not make itself.

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