Ofsted chief accused of bullying

The Sunday Times, 14/09/14, Richard Harman, Chairman of HMC and Headmaster of Uppingham School will tell heads that he thinks Sir Michael Wilshaw overstepped the mark when he threatened private schools with the loss of their charitable status unless they sponsor state schools in “tough” areas.

THE leader of the country’s top private schools is to accuse the Ofsted chief inspector of “bullying behaviour” in a row over sponsoring state schools.

Richard Harman, the new chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), will tell heads that he thinks Sir Michael Wilshaw overstepped the mark when he threatened private schools with the loss of their charitable status unless they sponsor state schools in “tough” areas.

“I have been a head for 15 years and I know bullying behaviour when I see it,” Harman will tell the HMC, which includes schools such as Eton College and Harrow.

“Bullies in the public sphere should not go unchallenged. Sir Michael Wilshaw is a public servant, not an elected official and his comments are quite inappropriate. We are not happy to be hectored.”

Harman said critics should stop blaming private schools for the lack of social mobility in Britain. “Social mobility has gone backwards in the past 30 years,” he admitted.

Harman said he regretted this trend, but said: “Private schools should not be seen as the root of the problem.”

Recently Wilshaw told the London Evening Standard that fee-paying schools should lose tax breaks worth thousands of pounds per year if they do not help to improve state schools by sponsoring academies — state schools free of local authority control.

“Independent schools are in a very privileged position,” Wilshaw said. “Not just in terms of their intake but they get tax subsidies through charitable status and most of their teachers are trained by the state.

“A lot of these schools were set up hundreds of years ago to help the poor — not the rich. The government should look at their subsidies and benefits if they don’t do it, and be tougher on their charitable status.”

Wilshaw’s remarks followed a report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission showing privately educated pupils still dominate top roles in Britain.

Harman, headmaster of Uppingham School, in Rutland, plans to write to the chief inspector setting out his disquiet. He said many fee-paying schools, including Eton College and Wellington College, sponsor academies, but that it was not the only way private schools could help raise state school standards.

Harman said he wanted to set up an e-learning trial at Uppingham, using private school teachers to help local working-class boys learn to read.

He said that if private schools lost their tax breaks, they would have to raise fees and some would be forced to close. He said they would also have less money to put towards helping state schools.

The row is reminiscent of previous attempts by Labour governments to force private schools to pass a “public benefit” test to retain their tax breaks — which was eventually watered down after private schools challenged the requirement in the courts.

Harman also fears that private schools in Scotland may lose their tax breaks if Scotland votes for independence.

By Sian Griffiths. Read the full article © The Sunday Times (subscription may be required).