1 October 2018
Posted by HMC Press Office

At a time when Britain needs strong exports and a productive and well-educated workforce, the UK’s leading independent schools can be a helpful friend, says HMC’s new Chair Shaun Fenton.

In a letter to nearly 300 colleagues published on the opening day of the HMC annual conference of leading independent schools heads, Mr Fenton:

  1. offers an optimistic vision of a great education to prepare children for a happy and successful future;
  2. reveals new data showing an unprecedented rate of growth in top independent schools opening abroad - providing valuable influence abroad and income at home.

“No child should leave school feeling that education has been little more than life’s longest to-do list. Or that they are unsure whether the boxes were worth ticking in the first place. All young people deserve an education which prepares them for the future by nurturing their talents, character and sense of moral purpose,” said Mr Fenton, who worked in the state sector for 20 years before taking his first independent school job as head of Reigate Grammar School in 2012.

“To get this right we need to give those who live and breathe education to have a voice, away from politicians, policymakers, inspection and accountability regimes. We need to listen more to students, parents, teachers, school leaders and governors. Working with Geoff Barton of ASCL, I have started talking to representatives of these groups, rarely assembled as one group with shared interests. I have been inspired by the clarity of purpose and vision that easily starts to emerge.

“I hope, as the first Chair of HMC to have worked for a local education authority in both ‘failing’ and ‘outstanding’ schools, and to have been head of a comprehensive, academy, grammar and independent school, that I may bring a new and distinctive perspective.  As a child I was educated in the state and the independent sectors, I was a bursary student and became the first of my family to go to university when I went up to Oxford.

“I understand from personal experience the value of a transformative education and the value of collaboration…It is a constant refrain for me – schools in the UK have more that unites us than divides us. The best state schools are world class and help educate children to make the world a better place; so do the leading independent schools. We ask our pupils to work collaboratively, and so must we. “

Creating happy and successful young people: HMC Chair’s top ten ingredients for a great education that will last a lifetime

  1. Joy: We value most the education that is a wonderment and fun, which inspires children and is key to enjoying their childhood at school and outside
  2. Curiosity: there’s one muscle above all others which children need to have exercised at school – an inquiring mind. It doesn’t matter whether it’s science, humanities or anything else which excites them, the most important thing is to ignite a love of learning for life
  3. Good mental health: the bedrock of a happy life and necessary to learn to one’s own ability. Schools are increasingly focused on instilling the attitudes necessary to deal with difficulties, gain self-worth, make good decisions and steer through life’s twists and turns
  4. Knowledge: we must not forget that a bedrock of knowledge enriches life, promotes understanding and helps gain the qualifications necessary to progress and be economically independent
  5. Physical health and happiness: Children need to be healthy and happy to be high achieving – in that order. A community that nurtures a sense of safety, ensures their children are healthy, get enough sleep and can face the world with optimism will be one that ‘gives them roots, then wings’
  6. Focus and aspiration: This is particularly pressing given the smash-and-grab raid on young people’s attention by the technology giants who spend hundreds of millions of pounds perfecting how to tempt them away from more mundane matters such as homework. Young people are far in advance of adults in their knowledge of technology and they need to be empowered to control their own decision making
  7. Creativity: The ability to think and express ourselves creatively is likely to trump the ability to memorise facts. Machines may know more but humans will need to think more
  8. Moral and ethical purpose: great teachers can help create a personal and communal sense of a moral purpose which promotes good behavior and helps pupils find their way in the world and make it a better place
  9. Flexibility: We know young people will have multiple jobs in the future, and will be required to deal with machines who can out-pace and outwit them. Adaptability will be a core skill
  10. Emotional literacy: Understanding the quality of friendships in particular and relationships generally is often laid down in school. Experts tell us that dealing with machine intelligence will demand that we discover what it truly means to be human, and being emotionally aware could be an increasingly valued skill.

 “I hope that with these core skills and values in place, our schools can teach children to travel the path from knowledge to understanding to wisdom – and do much better in that way than previous generations,” said Mr Fenton.

“To build these foundations, schooling in Britain needs a huge dose of authentic common sense, a sure touch from those who respond to and think about children every day at school and at home. This will be far more likely to succeed than a truth that starts in Westminster and is the result of policy initiatives or accountability metrics.

“As leading independent schools we remain ready and willing to work with others to understand the common features of a great education – those that span state and independent sectors, those that span time zones and national boundaries.”

Creating a new global export

As well as contributing to education at home, the leading independent schools represented by HMC have become a major global success story.

Whilst HMC heads lead only around 12% of the all UK independent schools, they account for over half of the schools which have opened international campuses in the last ten years - and demand for them continues to grow faster than any other part of the sector.

 New independent data from respected market intelligence company ISC Research released today (Oct 1) reveals:

  • A total of 73 different British independent schools have opened sister schools abroad or partnered with an international school
  • Distinguished HMC schools are at the forefront of this new trend, including Dulwich College, Harrow School, Rugby School, Marlborough College, Wellington College, Wycombe Abbey School, Shrewsbury School, Repton School, King’s College School, Wimbledon, Malvern College, Merchiston Castle School, Haileybury and Sherborne School. Harrow opened in Bangkok in 1998 and Dulwich College in Shanghai in 2003. Harrow now has five sister schools and Dulwich ten
  • 63 British independent schools (including 36 in HMC) have opened sister schools or partnered with an international school in the last ten years
  • The rate of growth is higher than ever before, with 11 international British independent schools opening their doors to students in the last academic year (2017-2018)
  • There are also several leading independent schools opening campuses later this academic year. These include Sedbergh School opening a sister school in China, King’s College School Wimbledon opening two schools in China (in Wuxi and Hangzhou), and Merchiston Castle School opening in Shenzhen
  • 18 British independent schools (including 10 in HMC) are due to open in the next two years, mainly in China but also in Singapore, Egypt, Oman and India. For example, Shrewsbury School and Malvern College are extending their international reach with new additional international schools. Wellington College already has three schools in China, and works closely with three new schools opening this year; two of these are in China (both of which are bilingual schools for Chinese children) and one in Thailand (Wellington International College Bangkok)
  • Schools are bringing funds back which can be spent on bursaries for lower income families and holding down fee increases in the face of large costs rises in the UK

“British independent education is a force for good, both at home and abroad. We are promoting knowledge and education rather than prejudice and ignorance, believing in engagement and cooperation rather than distance and suspicion,” said Mr Fenton, who has recently returned from China where his own school, Reigate Grammar, is also due to open an international campus in China next year.

“HMC sister schools are preparing children in those countries to have the values, skills, qualifications and temperament necessary to give them the choice to enter and flourish in the liberal university traditions of the UK, Canada, Australia or the US….Our schools are quietly helping to educate some of the next generation of global thinkers and leaders.

“At a time of crippling political uncertainty, the UK’s great independent schools have remained trusted and consistent, preparing young people brilliantly for the future whilst respecting what has held true in education for hundreds of years.

“Families around the world view our top independent schools as a gold standard. There is huge and growing demand for British-style independent education, and our strong reputation is a little-known and much-needed asset.

“I hope that, whatever our political perspectives, we can pull together and support the strengths of the UK, and our independent schools are one of those strengths.

“As a country we stand on the brink of great change and our schools have a part to play.”

Richard Gaskell, Schools Director of ISC Research said:

“The British independent school brand, with its reputation for academic rigour, preparation of the whole child for career and life success, and its global prestige, has attracted students to the UK from around the world for decades.

“The more recent approach of taking the British brand overseas, to establish sister schools with the same learning ethos and characteristics as the home school, has become an educational phenomenon in many countries; particularly in Asia. This is meeting the aspirations of many families today: to provide the best possible educational opportunities for their child while keeping them close to home until they are well prepared to independently move overseas for their tertiary education.

“Many of these schools are recognising the desires of both local parents and governments, to offer children a bicultural education that respects their heritage yet prepares them in the best possible way for a global future. This approach enables children to achieve qualifications that are recognised worldwide and have the best opportunities within an interconnected world, while retaining their home language and culture.”

Creating value: other public benefit offered by independent schools

Mr Fenton also described the following ways in which independent schools work hard to benefit all children:

  • the growing number of bursaries including those for the most disadvantaged. Independent schools spend £362 million each year – almost a million pounds each day – on means-tested discounted fees, up almost 5% in the last year. 43% of the 43,000 bursary pupils in independent schools already pay less than half their fees. Schools such as Manchester Grammar, Latymer Upper, Bolton, James Allen’s Girls and others have raised ten of millions of pounds for ambitious schemes to increase access
  • the energy every HMC school puts into state school partnership work including academic enrichment, targeted teaching, sports coaching, use of facilities, arts and cultural events and training staff
  • raising awareness and creating resources about wellbeing and mental health
  • working with universities to develop effective transition from school to university
  • the commitment to mark exam scripts
  • keeping alive national qualifications that have small numbers of candidates whilst helping a range of university subjects departments to survive
  • Serving as state school governors and charity trustees
  • The contribution as local and regional employers (including of apprentices), and as economic hubs in the supply chain of economic goods and services
  • support in specialist teacher training provision in threatened subject areas
  • assisting trade delegations to develop influence
  • supporting community groups including adult education. scouts, parent access centres and sports clubs
  • student volunteering
  • fundraising for charity

Creating new opportunities:

Mr Fenton reiterated the independent schools’ previous offer of creating up to 10,000 bursary places each year, free to families. These places would also be at an overall lower cost than educating them in a state school, with those places targeted exclusively at lower income pupils. The only cost to taxpayers would be that of educating a child in a state school, and the independent sector would pay the considerable extra cost of a full education in one of their schools.

 For further information please contact:

HMC External Relations Director Sue Bishop [email protected] 07787 294808

Sheila Thompson [email protected] 07958 307637

For general international school market data: ISC Research Director of Communications Anne Keeling [email protected]

07906 353863


Editor’s notes

HMC (the Headmasters' & Headmistresses' Conference) is a professional association of heads of the world's leading independent schools. HMC has 292 members in the British Isles educating more than 200,000 children, and a further 56 international members. Our members lead schools that are distinguished by their excellence in pastoral care, co-curricular provision and classroom teaching. Members of HMC have met annually in conference since the first meeting in 1869. HMC today is a thriving, pro-active Association of leading figures in school education. See