Leading independent schools first public response to the government’s call to do more to improve state education
Mike Buchanan, Headmaster of Ashford School will tomorrow (Mon) deliver the first public response to the government’s controversial grammar schools Green Paper “Schools that work for everyone” on behalf of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference.
In the recently launched consultation, the Prime Minister praised top independent schools for their “world-wide reputation for excellence” but argued “there is much more they should be doing so that children from a wider variety of backgrounds truly benefit from the excellent education they can deliver.”
She has suggested that if schools do not meet new “exacting requirements” set by the government – including sponsoring under-performing state schools and being responsible for their performance - a change to the law would be considered to remove the benefits which independent schools have as part of their current charitable status.
The Chair of HMC, which represents 282 of the UK’s top independent schools, will pledge to support the Government’s aims to improve state sector education and offer more places in independent schools to those who cannot afford full fees. However, he will stress that huge amounts of good work goes on behind the scenes already, good collaboration cannot happen “with a gun pointing at our heads”, and using charitable status as a “stick to beat us with” will be ill advised.
Mike Buchanan’s key points include:
- The Prime Minister is “knocking at an open door”. HMC schools share much of her vision for better education for all and are already delivering substantial programmes of work
- HMC schools pledge to continue to help creating places for less affluent pupils in their schools, and to help improve education in state schools
- However, independent schools can’t deliver effective help to state schools with “a gun pointing at our heads”. It won’t work. “Quite frankly, we cannot solve the structural problems in education that taxpayers entrust to the government – to the tune of £86 billion each year - nor should we be expected to…. I would ask the Prime Minister to listen carefully to our advice on what will be deliverable and effective in pushing up standards in the long term.”
- “Coercion is unnecessary” as every single HMC schools already partners with one or more state schools to deliver a wide range of support including teaching, masterclasses, special events, facilities and help with university applications
- It is estimated that partnerships already offered by the wider group of independent schools within the Independent Schools Council reaches 10,000 state schools and reaches 160,000 state school pupils
- 39 HMC schools alone already sponsor or co sponsor 137 state schools. Few will have the capacity and capability to open new state schools and be responsible for their performance
- Half a million pounds a day is already spent by HMC schools alone in means-tested bursaries for pupils who cannot pay the fees to open access
- There is not one answer to this problem and flexibility is key in order for independent schools to offer what they are good at and state schools to receive what they most need. “.. there is more than one way to solve the life chance lottery.”
- “We know that our colleagues in state schools often do a fantastic job with fewer resources, larger classes, more curriculum constraints and significantly different challenges and we do not presume to patronise them by suggesting we can necessarily run their schools better than they can. But with open hearted collaboration and a flexible approach, great things can happen”
- “Using charitable status as a stick to beat us with is both a blunt instrument and one which is unlikely to hit its target. Indeed, it’s likely to erode some of the excellent charitable activities painstakingly built up over many years”
NB In 2011, following a long-running dispute between ISC and the Charity Commission, it was resolved that independent schools could decide for themselves the best way in which they could offer public benefit. If the law is changed it will single out schools for a more stringent test of public benefit than any other organisations including churches.
- Regarding tax ‘breaks’, the money our schools put back into the economy is much more than what we receive. (£150million in tax relief, against £3.6 billion just in tax revenue and triple that in overall contribution to GDP.)
- It is for the Government and state schools to decide the grammar schools debate. Independent schools are varied themselves and agree with choice and variety in education.
The Prime Minister is knocking at an open door:
“Put simply, in her recent “Great Meritocracy” speech and in the consultation paper ‘Schools That Work For Everyone’ the Prime Minister is knocking at an open door. Those who lead independent schools devote their lives to developing young people and share the vision of a better education and the widest possible opportunities for all pupils.
Some may see Theresa May’s this challenge as an attack on the independent sector. It is not. The independent schools of the UK are part of the solution rather than the problem. Each HMC schools is different, so can bring a different answer. Our varied nature and ability to adapt is part of our strength and critical for the success of the Prime Minister’s plan… So let’s set aside prejudice and dogma.”
Common ground/what independent schools are doing already:
“The Prime Minister values variety. So do we.
HMC schools are a key part of the diverse mix of independent, free schools, academies, grammars and secondary schools which creates parental choice, innovation and freedom for heads to lead in a way appropriate to their context. It also allows for flexible collaboration, through the many Independent State School Partnerships, or through groups such as the United Learning, of which Ashford School is part.
“The Prime Minister wants more children to have access to good education through increased bursary places in independent schools. So do we.
In the drive to create more good school places, HMC schools already help pay fees, targeting those who can’t quite afford it through to refugees from Syria and Afghanistan.
The Independent Schools council estimates that partnerships with independent schools already involve 10,000 state schools and reach 160,000 state school pupils. And there is an appetite to do more. Just two weeks ago, I launched a new charitable foundation to fund “needs-blind” places at my own school.
Lastly, the Prime Minister wants to see expansion in the number school places in good state schools. So do we. That’s why every single HMC school is already involved in a partnership with a state school, upping standards by offering specialist teaching, out of hours mentoring and masterclasses, help with university admissions and careers guidance, support with sports and the creative arts and shared facilities. This is already significant, long lasting and large scale; all actions which show we are very much in touch with the needs of pupils.
Those detractors who consider such work marginal should speak to the individuals transformed by these experiences such as the hundreds of children involved in the York Partnership or those in Bolton.
Collectively, some HMC schools have the capacity and capability to go even further and help run state schools. In fact many who can already do. 39 HMC schools sponsor or co sponsor around 137 schools around the UK. The London Academy of Excellence, sponsored by 6 independent schools, is an example of a consortium that is changing lives in one of the most deprived parts of the country.
That there is a second LAE to be opened in Tottenham by another consortium of independent schools is testament to the extraordinary commitment of Heads working tirelessly for the greater good alongside running their own high quality schools.
There is solid experience here. I would ask the Prime Minister to listen carefully to our advice on what will be deliverable and effective in pushing up standards in the long term.
While our schools are happy to punch above our weight, independent education is a tiny sector, educating around 7% of British schoolchildren up to 16 and containing many very small and specialist schools.
Quite frankly, we cannot not solve the structural problems in education that taxpayers entrust to the government – to the tune of £86 billion each year - nor should we be expected to.”
Threat to charitable status
“Using charitable status as a stick to beat us with is both a blunt instrument and one which is unlikely to hit its target. Indeed, it’s likely to erode some of the excellent charitable activities painstakingly built up over many years.
There are HMC schools, for example, at which ten per cent of students in a typical sixth form year qualify for free school meals, recruited in an established outreach programme.
If the Government decides that sponsoring an academy or opening a grammar school is the current preference, it would put at risk programmes such as this in favour of much higher-risk projects which would take years to grow.
There are reasons why schools choose certain charitable activities over others – they know what will work in their context and be sustainable.
We would urge the Government to use the current consultation to embrace the best long-term recipes for success and avoid the unforeseen consequences that can arise from a failure to appreciate what works in practice.”
What can be done?
“First and foremost, our schools need to continue to be successful examples of excellence. If we take our eye of that ball, we will stop delivering in our own schools, let alone in any others.
From a secure base we can look to the future. We pledge to play to our strengths and offer what does work.
Our impact lies in challenging the most able, supporting the individual needs of our pupils, developing the individual character of our young people, innovation in learning and teaching, and in school leadership and governance. With willing partners (a key ingredient) we can find more ways of having a positive impact on education across the country.
We will continue to open our doors to children from less well-off families. HMC schools alone already spend over half a million pounds a day on means-tested help with fees and we plan to spend even more. I notice that Exeter School, for example, has just made available a number of new free places.
We will offer access to our teachers, coaches, facilities and specialist events to enrich the school experience of many thousands of children from less advantaged families and help offer greater opportunity.
And we hope that an increasing number of able children, living in less affluent parts of the country, with the ambition and the willingness to learn, will attend new schools, opened in no small part through the tremendous dedication of some of the Heads here today.
We look forward to identifying specific projects and partners to expand our contribution where this is needed and welcome.
So the great independent schools of this country have much to offer. We recognise our role in enriching state funded education and stand willing to continue working in a productive, practical and proportionate way. It is in our DNA to do so and part of the founding principles of our many of our schools.”
“Independent and state schools cannot make our relationships work with a gun pointing at our heads…… We hope the Prime Minister understands that – after all she had the good sense to outlaw forced marriages as Home Secretary.
She must know then that, all good partnerships, are based on mutual desire, understanding, respect and cooperation. They work best when the parties have a good deal in common.
Sustainable partnerships also require some down to earth, practical things to be in place – such as proximity. The ability to drop by, share experiences and talk through problems is a great asset as the most successful multi academy trusts know.
Thus, in the messy, complex real world, forcing independent and state schools together, is fraught with practical difficulties and ultimately, is unlikely to work.
A very particular skillset, capacity and experience is needed to drive up standards in a local all-ability state school, especially in a deprived area. Helping to drive from behind, as a governor, can be a good option.
We know that our colleagues in state schools often do a fantastic job with fewer resources, larger classes, more curriculum constraints and significantly different challenges and we do not presume to patronise them by suggesting we can necessarily run their schools better than they can. But with open hearted collaboration and a flexible approach, great things can happen, and I am hopeful the PM’s evidence-based and practical approach will prevail.
We know a rural boarding school excelling in sport will require a different partnership approach to that of a highly selective city day school. The Prime Minister is right to say that proportion matters and that “not every school is an Eton or a Harrow” even as national newspaper editors treat them as if the only notable schools on the planet. Nor do they typify most HMC schools, especially in more economically challenging parts of the country.
As Kevin Fear from Nottingham High School would point out, and as I know myself, parents in many HMC schools are as likely to be taxi drivers as hedge fund managers. Schools such as Kevin’s are already more socially diverse than many selective state schools in affluent suburbs, and already make a great contribution to social mobility – as former Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke, himself a former Nottingham High assisted place pupil, can attest.
So, as we can see, there is more than one way to solve the life chance lottery. The further expansion of subsidised school places is bound to be the right choice for a good many HMC schools and coercion is unnecessary.”
Why is independent education in demand?
HMC Schools 2016 results – announcement
- 51% of HMC pupils achieved A*/A at A level- twice the national figure.
- The number of A*/A grades awarded to HMC pupils at GCSE was 66% - three times higher than the national average.
NB: 82% of graduates with firsts or upper-seconds come from independent schools compared with 73% from state schools
“HMC schools are the silent engine room of educational excellence….
Let us remind ourselves why the education we offer is in such continuing demand. Not, as many would have it, simply because we have more resource. True, we spend more per head on educating our pupils, mainly on excellent teaching and smaller classes. But our value comes from what happens in the classroom, on stage, on the playing field - and in the playground.
Results in external examinations in HMC schools are far and away the best in the country overall, creative subjects are valued and thriving; sport manages to be both elite and inclusive. And we continually innovate, with new methods of teaching and learning, new thinking about the path from school to university and new ways of improving pastoral care.
That’s why more and more parents are choosing our schools; over 223,000 pupils attend 282 HMC schools UK and Ireland at the last count, and more will have joined since then. That’s 22% higher than ten years ago.”
Economic value to the UK
“Nearly all HMC schools in the UK are charities, meaning we plough back any surplus to improve the education we offer and to fund means-tested bursaries.
Much is made of the apparently enormous charitable tax relief which they receive, with the Prime Minister now invoking its removal as a sanction. Whilst on the surface this is understandable, it is misguided. We are accountable for our objectives to the Charity Commission in the same way as all other charities. And in terms of money in, money out, the Exchequer wins hands down.
According to a detailed Oxford Economics report, the tax relief for most independent schools- £150 million a year – is dwarfed by the £3.6 billion per annum we generate in tax revenue and even more by the £9.5 billion total value we add to the UK economy. Whilst I understand the frustrations of parents who cannot afford what we offer, and those of a Government looking for new allies, it important to understand we give a great deal already because of the way we steward resources generated very largely from fee income alone. It is precisely these resources which allow us to engage meaningfully with others.”
Other speech highlights
“So, whilst those who object to independent education in principle are constantly hunting for evidence of “crisis” “peril” or “mass exodus”, the opposite is true. Whilst all of us here applaud high standards in any type of school, it’s important that any educational debate is properly informed. So, to remind ourselves, here is a short start of term myth-busting test.
Question one. Independent schools outperform state schools in exams, on average – true or false? True.
Not the other way round, as has been reported. In HMC schools, 51% of our pupils achieved A*/A at A level this year- twice the national figure. The number of A*/A grades awarded to HMC pupils at GCSE was 66% - three times higher than the national average. HMC schools are the silent engine room of educational excellence.
Question two. Independent school pupils are likely to outperform others at university – true or false. True.
82% of graduates with firsts or upper-seconds come from independent schools compared with 73% from state schools – not the reverse, as was first reported by the Higher Education Funding Council for England earlier this year.
Question three. Independent schools are worth paying for. True or false. True
A highly significant piece of independent research by Durham University published in the Spring quantified the added value our schools bring to pupils of all abilities. It shows independent schools give pupils the equivalent to two years’ worth of additional education by the time they reach their GCSEs. Put another way, .64 of a grade at every GCSE. Crucially, these results were found after prior ability, socioeconomic factors and gender had been taken into account. This, combined with the smaller classes, more subject-expert staff, a broader curriculum, life-changing co-curricular activities. Our schools offer high value.
Question four. Q4. Independent schools are out of touch, their pupils wear top hats and their parents are all Russian oligarchs. True or false? False.
Over one fifth of families with children at independent schools earn less than £50,000 a year, and the majority have both parents earning. Only 5% of our pupils have homes overseas - a proportion that has been stable for years. The average day fee at ISC schools is £13,000 a year and third of pupils receive fee assistance.
HMC schools work hard to promote diversity. At KES Birmingham, an extraordinary fundraising campaign has paid for 100 boys from less affluent families to attend the school for free, with another 100 paying substantially reduced fees. At Manchester Grammar, pupils gaining a place from families earning less than £27,000 will pay nothing.
I understand the frustrations of those who cannot afford to come to our schools and we are working to extend the opportunity to more. But the fact is independent schools vary widely in size, type, capacity and ability to fund bursaries.”
Exam system under increasing and serious pressure
“Overall, we welcome the measures taken to make GCSEs and A-levels more rigorous, and improve the awarding of top grades.
However, the exam system in England remains under significant pressure and this is affecting the life chances of students in all schools. The decision by the exam regulator to deal with the 90,000 successful challenges to GSCE and A level grades in 2015 by making it more difficult to appeal is not only frustrating for schools, but heart-breaking for hard working pupils whose futures are so tightly tied in to their exam results.
Fairness and justice for every individual candidate is a top priority. This is even more important as this year the first pupils come to the end of the new A level syllabus, in which nearly everything rides on the final set of tests. Confidence in exam marking continues to fall amongst head teachers, and we continue work hard for genuine solutions such as double-blind remarking on appeal.
Backing for the importance of creative education – the conference theme
“..On a personal level, creative experiences can transform the very essence of the person… On a school level, some quantify the advantage of participation in creative subjects in terms of its apparently positive effect on overall learning. Others point to the increasing value of the creative industries to the UK economy – a staggering £10 million an hour according to this year’s government figures.
HMC schools are outstandingly successful in offering inventive opportunities to our pupils. It's one of the reasons why so many leading creatives come out of our classrooms: they have been able to hone their character and skills throughout their school life. I am proud that the arts are woven through the educational experience we offer and that so many of us share that with children from schools in less privileged positions. The arts festivals in Portsmouth and Oxford are fine examples.”
Notes to editors:
For interviews with Mike Buchanan or other HMC school Heads, please contact Sue Bishop, HMC External Relations Director, on 07787 294808 or [email protected].
Download the full speech here.
Government Consultation document: https://consult.education.gov.uk/school-frameworks/schools-that-work-for-everyone/supporting_documents/SCHOOLS%20THAT%20WORK%20FOR%20EVERYONE%20%20FINAL.pdf pp 12-14
The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) represents 282 leading independent schools in the UK and Ireland and 54 internationally. They include co-educational, single sex, day and boarding schools and educate more than 220,000 children in the UK and Ireland. Our members lead schools that are distinguished by their excellence in pastoral care, co-curricular provision and classroom teaching.