Independent schools are being ‘demonised’ by politicians – independent school heads reply

Dr Christopher Ray, Chairman of HMC recently said that independent schools are being 'demonised’ by politicians. In the Telegraph, 25/11/12, other heads of HMC independent schools reveal how bad the situation has become.

Anthony Wallersteiner Headmaster of Stowe School, Buckingham

'Ministers who talk about wanting to “transfer the DNA of independent schools to the state sector” need to go back to GCSE biology. If I were a head of a state school – and I have plenty of friends who are – I would be hacked off with the condescension in that sentiment, that somehow independent schools have something we can transmit to state schools to bring them up to standard.

'What annoys me is that the Lord Adonis and Michael Gove model of sponsoring an academy is one-size-fits-all. If you don’t do it, you are not doing your bit; you are seen as being elitist, divisive and not taking part in the great education debate.

'At Stowe, we have lots of good links with state schools and our local community. We gifted our landscape gardens and the temples to the National Trust and receive 120,000 visitors a year, all of which provides a public benefit. We are not here to bail out state schools when we are supposed to be independent.'

Mike Windsor Headmaster of Reading Blue Coat School, Berkshire

'The portrayal of independent schools can be frustrating. The image of Charterhouse, for instance, with its rolling fields, is not representative of what most schools are like.

'It is also frustrating that our strengths and our strong international reputation, and the positives that these bring to the country, are not acknowledged. During the Olympics, attention was drawn to the number of competitors and winners who came from independent schools. But it was levelled almost as an accusation rather than something that should be celebrated and built upon.'

Richard Harman Headmaster of Uppingham School, Rutland

'As the head of a major independent school, do I feel less respected than my predecessors? We live in an age where deference to authority is not what it was. Deference is just not there any more – whether it is towards the BBC, the Church of England, politicians, or the head of an independent school.'

Keith Budge Headmaster of Bedales, Petersfield, Hampshire

'As a sector, we are attacked for not engaging sufficiently with what is seen as our responsibility to local communities and work with the maintained sector. We are also attacked when we do it because we are accused of doing it for cynical reasons, to meet the public benefit test of the Charity Commission.

'We started our current bursary policy in 2001, before the public benefit test was even mooted, but people seem sceptical about the genuine, altruistic motivation behind our actions.

'On the one hand, governments are saying that a degree of independence is very helpful for maintained schools’ efforts to raise standards. Yet at the same time – and this applied to the previous Labour government and the Coalition – they are embarrassed about saying anything publicly that admits to the excellence of schools in the independent sector, or the critical part they play in the national educational agenda. That for me is an anomaly.

'In those sectors in which Britain is a world-beater – engineering, pharmaceuticals, publishing – we are understandably proud as a nation. But in terms of the public agenda towards independent schools and what we say about ourselves, the message is clear: that we certainly shouldn’t crow, and should keep our heads down.'

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