I wanted to post this in last week's section, but I had such an impossibly hectic time of it (in real life)--my apologies :-(
Jane Austen must certainly have provoked a lot of discussion among her relations with her writing.
In Ch. 36, while Robert is pontificating about cottages and all his important friends, etc., there is this passage:
talking of his brother, and lamenting the extreme gaucherie which he really believed kept him from mixing in proper society, he candidly and generously attributed it much less to any natural deficiency, than to the misfortune of a private education; while he himself, though probably without any particular, any material superiority by nature, merely from the advantage of a public school, was as well fitted to mix in the world as any other man.
"Upon my soul," he added, "I believe it is nothing more; and so I often tell my mother, when she is grieving about it. 'My dear madam,' I always say to her, 'you must make yourself easy. The evil is now irremediable, and it has been entirely your own doing. Why would you be persuaded by my uncle, Sir Robert, against your own judgment, to place Edward under private tuition, at the most critical time of his life? If you had only sent him to Westminster as well as myself, instead of sending him to Mr. Pratt's, all this would have been prevented.' This is the way in which I always consider the matter, and my mother is perfectly convinced of her error."
Elinor would not oppose his opinion, because whatever might be her general estimation of the advantage of a public school, she could not think of Edward's abode in Mr. Pratt's family with any satisfaction.
Robert picks up the theme again in Ch. 41 with this "Poor Edward! -- he has done for himself completely! -- shut himself out for ever from all decent society! -- but as I directly said to my mother, I am not in the least surprised at it; from his style of education it was always to be expected."
It's clear, though, that Elinor disagrees on the quality of education Edward received, even though she rather wishes it had not been at Mr. Pratt's, because of Lucy! But earlier, before she ever knew about Lucy, she thought, "[Edward's]understanding was good, and his education had given it solid improvement."( Ch. 3)
The interesting part about all of this, and what would have no doubt sparked some debate among the Austens, was that Jane's father would have been educating young men in the same manner that Mr. Pratt did. On the other hand, her brothers Edward, James, and Frank did send their own sons to the sort of public school Robert advocates (Henry Crawford also went to Westminster!).
In Jane Austen: The World of her Novels, Deirdre LeFaye writes:
Conditions at the old-fashioned public schools were invariably spartan--at Winchester the boys got upat 5:30 in the morning and in winter and summer alike washed under the pump in the courtyard, dressed only in shirt and trousers, before attending a chapel service and receiving an hour or more's tuition before breakfast.
Discipline was ferocious, for most headmasters still held to Dr. Johnson's view that 'Children, not being reasonable, can only be governed by fear', and flogged their pupils as a matter of course.
At any rate, since Robert's censure of private schools must be praise, it's clear which side of the debate is JA's own opinion.