IE Today, 01.12.15, 2015 was a year in which the independent sector thrived. Its schools enrolled record numbers of students, whilst continuing to exemplify pedagogic innovation – despite media ferment and post-electoral regime change. Leading figures from the education sector examine the implications of a successful but changeful 2015. HMC Vice-Chair Richard Harman, headmaster of Uppingham School features.
What do you think are some of the sector's greatest achievements this year?
RH: Whilst the evidence points to confidence seeping back into the market, regional disparities are still stark; life remains much more of a struggle for those independent schools outside the “city state” of Greater London and the South East. But if HMC schools continue to show the adaptability that comes with independence, demonstrate outstanding pupil attainment and believe in a truly holistic, liberal educational ethos, this may well turn out to be a golden era.
Why do you think the sector considers to enjoy such strong support?
RH: HMC schools perform brilliantly. We have also worked hard to build trust and a positive reputation. Thanks to some excellent sustained groundwork, the voice of leading independent schools is being heard much more clearly than before in the media and (usually behind the scenes) by policy makers. We are being listened to on important issues such as exam marking, mental health, sport and pupils’ transition to university life. We must continue, however, to challenge lazy stereotypes about the sector and to speak up positively on behalf of all pupils in all schools; taking a lead involves considering the bigger picture.
What challenges emerged over the past year, and how has the sector responded to these?
RH: After the general election, we saw continuity in policy direction and personnel at the DfE. This was welcome. But with a fragmented state system and some distinctly mixed signals about, among other things, expansion of grammar schools, some of the political picture remains a little cloudy. The recent rumblings in the House of Lords about charitable status, whilst apparently based on incomplete information, shows we need to be clearer about the wide-ranging public benefit activities which already take place. In HMC’s case, 99.7 percent of our schools are involved in partnerships with other schools and the community, and we work hard on a range of issues to benefit all pupils.
What types of partnerships has the sector engaged in during the last year and do you perceive any further opportunities for collaboration?
RH: HMC schools run some truly innovative and wide-ranging partnerships including those in sport, arts and STEM subjects. At the same time, teacher training initiatives such as HMCTT have been very timely, addressing the real and present danger of a national teacher recruitment crisis and pioneering a new high-quality route into teaching. We have great expertise to share, and this will have cross-sector benefits over time.
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