To hear what some of our politicians say, one might imagine independent schools were populated entirely by the children of the filthy rich.
The reality is that many families struggle to pay fees they can barely afford, because they believe the difference it will make to their child's future is worth it.
Given the massive rise in school fees in recent years, coupled with current economic uncertainties, it is perhaps no surprise that some families are having difficulty paying for education.
In fact, what is significant is that so many are still willing to pay, or attempt to pay, when the cost has increased so dramatically.
This is something that should worry the ministers and civil servants in charge of our state education system.
Parents already pay for state schooling through taxation, and yet many feel obliged to pay a second time so their son or daughter can attend an independent school.
This is a vote of no-confidence in the state system.
Some members of the Government might be tempted to console themselves with suggestions that these wealthy parents are motivated by snobbery, but in fact many would dearly like to trust their children to the state education sector - if only they trusted it to provide a good service.
The Government's target should be to provide taxpayer-funded education to the same high standard as that offered by King Edward VI High School for Girls.
There was some evidence that Tony Blair understood this, but it is unclear whether Gordon Brown does.
This means making some difficult choices. For example, parents who send their child to King Edward VI High School can be certain that lessons won't be interrupted by disruptive pupils, because any classmate who persistently behaves this way will soon be shown the door.
State schools are unable to make the same guarantee. Attempts to give state schools the same privileges and rights as their independent peers have sometimes been portrayed as divisive by Labour MPs who fear a "two-tier" education system.
We have a two-tier system now. Anything which reduces the link between a good education and the ability to pay for it would actually reduce divisions in our society, and should really be supported by anyone who purports to believe in social justice.
Ministers will be able to hold their heads up high when it makes no difference to a child whether their parent can afford school fees or not. They have a very long way to go.