What I love most about teaching history are those moments when young people feed off each other, exchanging ideas and perspectives in a shared effort; when a debate or discussion that has got invidiously stuck suddenly moves on, with scales falling from students’ eyes.
In my experience, this often happens when children from different backgrounds and with different perspectives have the confidence to exchange their ideas.
When I was a teacher at a state comprehensive school the magic was the same, as it is across the educational commonwealth. Schools are richer for their variety.
At the Labour Party conference in Brighton this weekend delegates affirmed their commitment to improving the lives of all children. I wholeheartedly agree with them. This should be a priority for any government and for anyone involved in education. No one would dispute that there is inequality in the education system – it is far from perfect.
At the Labour Party conference in Brighton this weekend delegates affirmed their commitment to improving the lives of all children. I wholeheartedly agree with them. This should be a priority for any government and for anyone involved in education
However, where I strongly disagree is when it comes to Labour’s solution: to abolish independent schools, including Eton College – the school where I am Head Master. Apart from the fact that the right to choose education is enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights, the policy does not make economic sense.
Independent schools save the taxpayer £3.5billion a year from pupils not being in state education and contribute £13.7billion to the economy, generating £4.1billion of annual tax revenues and supporting 303,000 jobs.
However, the much more fundamental issue is it will not work. Confiscating and redistributing the assets of some of the best schools in the world will not improve the life chances of young people left behind by our education system.
All children deserve an outstanding education, regardless of their background, and that requires a collaborative response from all across the education sector. There are great inequalities within the state system itself, regardless of independent schools. 100,000 children a year leave education without basic qualifications, and that will only be addressed by better funding and particular efforts on ‘cold spots’.
The independent sector can be – and in many cases already is – part of the solution rather than the source of the problem. Why talk about state versus private when what we surely should be talking about is using every institution, private and public, to help the excluded through partnership.
However, where I strongly disagree is when it comes to Labour’s solution: to abolish independent schools, including Eton College – the school where I am Head Master. Apart from the fact that the right to choose education is enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights, the policy does not make economic sense
Take Eton’s relationship with Holyport College – a state boarding school near Maidenhead we sponsored through the free school programme.
The school is rated outstanding by Ofsted and is the first school of choice for vulnerable children locally, with 27 pupils with Education Health and Care Plans and seven per cent of the cohort either currently in care or recently post care.
Or take the London Academy of Excellence (LAE). This was a brilliant idea of a state school educator, Joan Deslandes (of Kingsford Community School in Beckton), and an independent school head, Richard Cairns (of Brighton College).
They hatched a plan for a new state school, at sixth form level, in Newham, east London, and we are extraordinarily proud to be a part of it, along with five other independent schools.
We provide governance, second teachers, run student exchanges and offer academic enrichment and university entrance advice. Its impact can be measured very clearly: in Newham in 2012, only three students made it to Oxford and Cambridge. In 2019, 26 made it to those same institutions from LAE alone.
Independent schools recognise their social responsibility and want to extend the reach within their own schools too. Last year alone, they provided £420million in financial aid to widen access. Recently, the sector proposed a scheme to enable up to 10,000 children from low-income families to attend our schools every year.
An increasing number of independent schools are working with government to provide places for looked-after children and those on the edge of care – learning from state partners as we do so. Eton has spent nearly £67million on financial aid since 2009. Back then we had 27 pupils on free places – now the figure is 90 pupils and rising.
The fact is that many schools – state and independent – have been getting together to maximise the power of partnership work, trying to ensure it is targeted on those who really need help. But this will slow down if a government of whatever flavour decides to punish independent schools simply for being good at what we do: educating and inspiring children.