Stop ‘indulging in toffism’, says private school head

TES, 05.10.15, critics of private schools should stop “indulging in toffism” and accept the “positive contribution” the independent sector can make to education, a leading head will say today. HMC Chairman Chris King, headmaster of Leicester Grammar School will tell the 2015 HMC Annual Conference of leading independent Heads today.

Chris King, head of independent school Leicester Grammar, will use his speech to the annual gathering of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) to attack those who blame private schools for the problems faced by the state sector.

Mr King, the new chairman of the elite grouping of 275 private schools, will say:It is clearly absurd to blame the sector which educates seven per cent of the school population for the ills of the educational experience of the other 93 per cent.

“This seems to me to be a distraction tactic, steering the debate away from serious and long-term issues such as funding crises and teacher shortages.

“I say to our critics: stop the politically charged, sterile rhetoric which gets us nowhere. Stop indulging in toffism and out-of-date preconceptions about the nature of our schools.

“Above all, stop believing that you can make the weak stronger by making the strong weaker. Instead of carping, accept we want to make a positive contribution.”

He said he was “eager to engage” with decision-makers in the education world.

Although he did not name any of the sector’s critics, figures such as Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw have incurred the ire of private schools in the past by claiming that they are not doing enough to help their state-funded counterparts.

Two years ago Sir Michael told HMC heads that they were offering only the “crumbs off their tables” to state schools. In another address, the chief inspector claimed that independent schools were “marooned on an island of privilege”, an idea many of the sector's headteachers are at pains to dispel.

Mr King will say that private schools play an important role through partnering with state schools, offering subsidised fees and improving the exam system. They lead the way on issues such as navigating the transition from school to university, sport and young people’s mental health, he will say.

Mr King was also expected to restate the HMC's concerns about the exam marking system in the UK, claiming that it still operates like a “cottage industry” and requires urgent reform.

The current situation, where thousands of papers are remarked and grades adjusted each year is “untenable” he was expected to say.

Mr King was expected to call for a larger and better trained workforce of markers which is “reasonably paid” and more accountable.

Responding to his comments, Michael Turner, director general of the Joint Council for Qualifications, said: “Our examination system relies upon the 50,000 teachers who each year mark over 15 million papers. They do a fantastic job and receive training from exam boards and ongoing monitoring to ensure high standards are maintained.

"Where mistakes do happen, in what is a large and complex system, there are robust processes to correct them as soon as possible and often within days.  Exam boards are always looking to deliver improvements, which is why they are pleased that HMC has joined them and others in a new cross-industry working group that will encourage more teachers, from both the state and the independent sector, to become examiners. ”

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