‘Mr Wilshaw, independent schools are not the cause of education’s problems, nor are they the only solution’

The Telegraph, 10.03.16, Ofsted's chief inspector should value what so many independent schools do, rather than lobbing rocks of ignorance, argues HMC member John Claughton, headmaster of leading independent King Edward's School in Birmingham.

Yesterday, the Sutton Trust ran a conference entitled Best in Class on the subject of providing the best teachers for disadvantaged children. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted's chief inspector of schools, was on one of the panels.

When he had finished telling everyone that head teachers needed to be "bruisers" and "battleaxes", he decided to take a few swings at independent schools – although this was not exactly germane to the Sutton Trust’s topic.

He said that independent schools should lose charitable status if they did not sponsor an academy.

In the world of Sir Michael, it doesn’t matter that independent schools come in many shapes and sizes so that only a minority of such schools could do such a thing.

In the world of Sir Michael, it doesn’t matter that sponsoring an academy is a complex challenge which needs great expertise and resources that few independent schools have.

In the world of Sir Michael, it doesn’t matter that the Government doesn’t even want single academies sponsored by a single institution these days: we live in the world of multi-academy trusts.

He went on to say that, although independent schools do enter into partnerships, it is only an empty gesture forced upon them through fear of the Charity Commission.

In the world of Sir Michael, it doesn’t matter that 97 per cent of allindependent schools do engage in partnerships and many independent schools are engaged in major long-term projects to raise aspirations in their local community.

Nor does it matter that lots and lots of independent schools have spent their histories doing their best for the children of the town or city in which they were founded. We’ve had a moral purpose for longer than the Charity Commission has existed and for longer than Sir Michael has been full of moral outrage.

His final point was that independent schools are depriving the state sector of teachers by setting up schools overseas. In the world of Sir Michael, it doesn’t matter that teachers, like all professionals, have the right to teach where they want. Nor does it matter to him that the profits from those schools are largely being fed back into bursaries for local children.

Indeed, in the world of Sir Michael, there is no room for reference to the provision of Assisted Places at all, one of the ways in which independent schools can genuinely raise the achievements of able children from ordinary, it not disadvantaged, backgrounds.

Independent schools are neither the cause of education’s problems, nor the only solution. However, as far as I understand it, the Sutton Trust does believe that collaboration between the state sector and the independent sector can have major benefits and independent schools can be forces for good in terms of social mobility. I agree.

There are many different ways in which this can take place. Some of the strongest and biggest schoolshave, singly or in an alliance with others, sponsored academies. Many schools continue to grow their provision of means-tested Assisted Places. Almost all schools can do something in terms of partnership which can enrich the experience and raise the aspirations of pupils.

King Edward’s School spends £2m each year on Assisted Places, funding 200 boys, and has raised £10 million pounds from alumni for that purpose in six years and works with 192 local junior schools.

That work can come in many forms, a maths competition for 100 different junior schools, training for hundreds of junior school teachers, music, drama, sport, bee-keeping. All of this is easy for us in an inner-city site with an ancient educational purpose.

I just wish that Sir Michael would widen his view of the world by coming to see what so many independent schools do, rather than lobbing the rocks of ignorance.

Read more © The Telegraph