1 October 2017
Posted by HMC Press Office

Chris King, Chair of HMC and Head of Leicester Grammar School. will tomorrow (Mon) deliver a robust defence of independent schools. He will say they are a “valuable and necessary asset” and call for a “cessation of hostilities” against them.

He will tell an audience of the UK’s leading independent heads and other educationalists that fears of the effect of Brexit on trade and public finances means Britain needs its globally successful independent schools more than ever before.

Mr King, who is taking up the Chairmanship of HMC for a unique second term, will make the case that independent schools offer important public benefit, especially in supporting state schools and the economy. He will call for a new unity of purpose and vision for education from a cross-sector alliance of school leaders – a view that has been supported by ASCL and NAHT.

“It is urgent for state and independent schools to work together to put pupils, not politics at the heart of education policy”, Mr King will tell the HMC annual conference in Belfast. “A more collaborative, less aggressive approach is urgently needed.”

“The time for state versus independent education is gone, to be replaced perhaps by state education with renewed independence of spirit and independent education with a renewed sense of responsibility to society.

“I am hoping that over the coming years education will experience a new period of unity, with independent and state school colleagues working evermore closely together to solve some of the most serious problems facing schools today. “

As a first step Mr King will announce a new joint school leaders’ policy summit, hosted by ASCL, to consider solutions to the large number of unreliable exam grades awarded to students. The exam regulator’s own figures estimate that more than a third of candidates do not receive an accurate grade.

“Ofqual has begun to tackle this. But the size of the problem is unnerving and cannot be condoned by school leaders through silence. “

He will thank Justine Greening for being willing to work with independent schools after the Education Green Paper was dropped post-Election, and offer to assist Labour on its recently-announced National Education Service, saying:

“We also stand ready to assist with the Opposition’s plans for a National Education Service. It would be truly bold and innovative if the Labour Party were willing to engage with all those who understand education.”

He will tell Conference the little-known benefits independent schools offer include:

  • substantial contribution to the UK’s domestic economy at a time of grave concerns over public finances
  • a fast-growing and respected global brand at a time of uncertainty about Britain’s international trading strength following Brexit .
  • teachers, mentoring and facilities to state schools at a time of warnings about a crisis in funding and teacher supply; (see partnerships info below)
  • formation and management of successful state academies;
  • fee assistance to less well off families;
  • free places for deprived children including those in care;
  • considerable contribution to the economy;
  • sanctuary for subjects which would otherwise disappear;
  • research and innovation
  • national programmes of work to improve the exam system, teenage mental health and safe passage into life after school
  • £4m charitable donations to charitable education projects from HMC schools alone
  • 1,700 free places for international students from poorer European countries
  • substantial contribution UK’s global trade and reputation

He will point out that independent schools not only save the British taxpayer over £3.6bn a year by educating pupils without state funding, but contribute a total of £11.7bn and 275,000 jobs to the economy – and therefore must be left alone to continue to thrive.

“Any attempts to undermine our sector can only harm the Exchequer and thereby have a detrimental effect on already cash-strapped state schools.”

Speech extracts

Global value 

Mr King will point to a new RSA Academics report which predicts continued global expansion of the British School education brand in ways which will continue to build the UK’s economic strength and soft power. He will say independent schools are experiencing:

“…an unparalled period of international expansion. We have just crossed a symbolic threshold - there are now more HMC pupils studying abroad in offshoots of British-based schools than international students coming to our schools in Britain. and HMC is recognised as one of the most prominent organisations supporting international education.

“Again, our critics should think carefully about what this means. Britain, at a time of severe post Brexit uncertainty, is experiencing growing trade in international education. To which independent schools – in no small part HMC schools – contribute well over £600 million every year. At the same time, our overseas campuses are providing a pipeline of over 8,000 international students to UK colleges and universities. And this happens because independent schools are free to make long term strategic plans that our colleagues in the state sector can only dream of. “

Cooperation versus hidden consequences

“It is endlessly ironic that UK independent education, one of the most valued and enduring global brands, should be so sneered at in its country of origin.

“Parents need to know that politicians and school leaders will work together to help their children reach their potential.”

We can only play our part; it is for central government, with its huge resources, to do the rest. Only by being excellent can we offer excellence – and only by acknowledging excellence can others share in it.”

“We are at a critical juncture. Our Scottish schools are facing the possibility of losing their business rates relief; an act with unwarranted implications – not least given all our Scottish schools have done to meet a charity test. It would only serve to harm the state education sector and the economy.

“A similar threat waits in the wings in England and Wales. When the Labour Party suggested putting VAT on school fees South of the Border in their election manifesto, we were obliged to explain such a policy would cost the taxpayer billions, as many pupils being educated independently would then have to be paid for by the state.  This would require building expensive new schools or accommodating the new pupils in larger classes – meaning Labour will have broken its 2017 conference pledge to bring class sizes down.

“With greater costs and fewer parents able to afford higher fees, our schools would have no option but to re-balance the books - including withdrawing public service education which cost them money to provide. The hardest hit would be the less well- off, whose fees are paid by the school. We would see loss of essential community resources. Loss of employment, loss of economic opportunities, loss of overseas trade and loss of international influence. And an immediate net loss to the Treasury at a time when all politicians are uneasy at the level of funding available to state schools.

“There seems little logic to support the argument. The phrase “cutting off your nose to spite your face” comes to mind.

“But what is clear is there is now a choice.  Down one road lies cooperation, economic and educational stability and long-term benefit to state schools. Down the other lies a set of hidden consequences and government own-goals.

“Parents need to know that politicians and school leaders will work together to help their children reach their potential.

“As the Education Secretary for England Justine Greening has pointed out, Brexit means that the UK is in the process of being politically and economically re-wired and societal change will inevitably follow. An education which prepares young people with both rigour and realism is therefore a key part of re-setting the dial.

International context

Young people are, as we know, facing both global and national upheaval. At home, public funding is severely constrained; the EU referendum and General Election uncovered considerable inter-generational tensions; Britain is trying to re-shape its identity outside the EU and the emerging generation is required to make life choices far removed from those of their parents. Across the world, political tensions are building and further waves of technology, not least artificial intelligence, seem set to disturb established patterns of occupation and livelihood. What better time, therefore, to put our efforts in to collaborative working across schools?”

The solution – a new alliance

“To help young people cope, we need to move on from sterile arguments about types of school and league tables to a much more important conversation about how to teach and how to learn in the 21st century.

“Now is the time to start remoulding the education debate. Many of us would agree with our colleagues in ASCL that a long term vision for education is needed. Every head in this room has a part to play…it is by working together, whilst being independent and outspoken when necessary, that we truly break down barriers and make real progress.

Because HMC schools have more to offer British education than ever before. I will lay out in this speech how we are already woven into the fabric of many state schools, offering help in ways which are unrecognised publicly, but recognised locally as hugely valuable at a time of scarce resources. How our schools  transform the lives of young people including many from less well-off families, and how we contribute to a better education for all on a national scale. And how we stand ready to contribute even more – but can only do so with a willingness to engage from all involved.  

“We know these solutions must be forged by school leaders who understand what happens in classrooms as well as boardrooms. Who know that reform is unlikely to work unless those who have dedicated their lives to education are consulted. And who are willing to pool their experience.

“This is not therefore the time to descend into dogma and division. Instead let’s allow the needs of pupils, not politics to drive educational reform.

“So today I am asking for a cessation of hostilities against independent schools, so we can all stop wasting time on needless battles and instead work together to improve standards and raise aspiration.

“We recognise of course, that independent schools operate from a position of strength. We can provide each pupil with the resources they need, have the freedom to determine our own curricula and the scope to innovate that comes with independence from central government. With these advantages come the civic duty to share insights with, and learn from, our less well-resourced state school colleagues.

“And the good news is, that away from the headlines and hurly burly of politics, school leaders are getting on with it. HMC and other associations are already working evermore closely with our state school colleagues.

“For example, every one of us knows the central importance of better teacher training, recruitment and retention.  Whilst we are fortunate in HMC schools to offer a great working environment to our staff, attracting the brightest and the best to teach is the single biggest problem facing education. And it’s one we can help with. Already, our schools are involved in running a national teacher training programme in Modern Foreign Languages, and a new version for Physics teachers is being planned by the Girls’ Schools Association and HMC.

“At the root of what we have to offer lies the institutional qualities which all HMC schools – and the best in the state sector - hold dear. A strong sense of community and continuity allows us to provide young people with a sense of identity and stability, which can build their confidence and equip them to deal with the opportunities and threats thrown up by an uncertain future. 

“This enduring strength of purpose, combined with openness to the excitement and idealism of the lives that teenagers live, is the stuff of educational chemistry.  It can’t be measured or put in a league table. But much more importantly, it sparks energy, commitment and a hunger to learn.

“I am well aware that this independent spirit and relentless focus on what’s best for children can be a thorn in the side of those who suffer from political myopia. But it is precisely this which makes our schools valuable, allowing us to be evidence-based, free from fear or favour and answerable for our effectiveness directly to our governors and the parents and pupils who can choose to go elsewhere.

“There is no question that we do more than our critics suggest – or perhaps know. But we are not deaf to criticism, and are willing to work for the public good not only as charities, but as citizens and educationalists – also recognising the benefit of great partnerships to both sides and the value of living harmoniously in our communities and wider society.”

Mr King will pay tribute to ASCL’s General Secretary Geoff Barton and NAHT’s Deputy General Secretary Nick Brook for their openness to working with independent schools on the basis that, as Nick Brook has said:  “the simple truth is that both sectors are in the same business - that of imparting knowledge to young people, developing their skills and preparing them for adult life”.  

Public Benefit: Evidence

Partnerships: An estimated 10,000 different partnerships between independent and state schools are currently operating in Britain, benefitting 175,000 state school pupils as well as those from independent schools. This is large scale activity which grew at by 7.5% last year.

This includes, importantly, offering free teaching to many thousands of pupils, especially in hard-to-resource subjects such as Classics, Languages and Physics at a time of a nationwide shortage in these subjects.

Example: The Grammar School at Leeds runs a staggering 200 projects, including a unique scheme to help a local MAT acquire one of their sites to create a new free school. At the same time, head Sue Woodroofe leads innovative programmes such as enabling autistic young people to attend internships- leading to five full time jobs - and supporting looked after children in a way which has been described by Leeds City Council as trail-blazing.

Chris King will say: “Such serious, long term work couldn’t be further from the spinning of yarns about independent schools being “in crisis” over gains made by state schools. Not only do our own results speak for themselves, but we are offering to help nurture that very state school success.”

“The recently-announced System Partnership Unit - set up inside DfE to help facilitate further inter-sectoral working - is a welcome development.  We thank Education Secretary Justine Greening for emerging from the clamour of the election to demonstrate an understanding that true partnerships need the flexibility to answer specific community needs in a way which speaks to a school’s strengths. She appears, like school leaders, to be motivated by results - projects That. Just. Work.”

Sponsoring Academies

Mr King will tell Conference that whilst being coerced into running academies was always the wrong policy, HMC schools continue to do so if the circumstances are right.   He will cite the London Academy of Excellence, Tottenham which opened in September with Highgate School as the lead sponsor. It will offer a first-class Sixth Form to bright local children, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, and is a sister to the highly acclaimed London Academy of Excellence.

Fee assistance

The amount spent on means tested fee assistance by schools under the ISC umbrella increased by £100 million in five years to £380 million every year.

“A third of all pupils at independent schools are now on reduced fees.” Mr King will say. “There are many examples of vigorous fund-raising and huge commitment – some schools are even hoping eventually to become needs-blind.  Our detractors conveniently forget that HMC schools are not for profit institutions and work exceptionally hard, spending on  professional fundraisers to raise money to pass on to families who need it.

“This is by no means to “prop up” our own schools. Frankly, that is not necessary. Moreover, the case for greater resources for state schools is all the more compelling when it becomes clear that important aspects of their pupils’ education are being provided solely by their neighbouring independent school. “

Propping up subjects

Whole subject areas are becoming increasingly reliant on independent schoolsFor example, a quarter of A level entries in French, German and Spanish come from independent schools. Other specialist areas such as Latin, Greek, Music and  Religious Studies, would also struggle without their support.

“There is no innate reason for this.  Much of the problem is starved resource in state schools but important, too, has been the steadfastness with which HMC schools, have applied rigour and persistence to the task of opening up the horizons of pupils.”


Chris King mentions Eton’s Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning as one example of work which will: “improve cognitive performance and attainment, foster a love of learning and enable a healthy, productive approach to personal development.”


Mr King will cite significant improvements to the exam system resulting in part from campaigning by HMC since 2012, plus the sharing of classroom resources designed to promote healthy use of mobile phones and other devices.

Excellence of independent schools

Mr King will point out that, despite attempts to suggest independent schools are in decline:

  • Independent research shows that independent school pupils are around 18 months ahead of state school pupils of similar ability by GCSE – even when taking background and prior attainment into account
  • Independent schools are almost the only ones to offer courses which are more demanding than A-levels. This year 83% of independent schools reported results for exams other than A Levels, such as the Pre U or International Baccalaureate. The average points score for pupils taking the IB Diploma in 2017 was 37, - that’s equivalent to 4.5 As at A Level
  • Research from 2015 showed more independent pupils go on to achieve a 1st or 2:1, at university, and fewer drop out
  • Independent school graduates earn more than state sector graduates in the same sort of positions, even after taking into account differences in age, gender, university and degree – and crucially, regardless of social background



Notes to editors:

 For interviews with Chris King or other HMC school Heads, please contact Sue Bishop, HMC External Relations Director, on 07787 294808 or [email protected].

HMC (the Headmasters' & Headmistresses' Conference) is a professional association of heads of the world's leading independent schools.

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