PRESS NOTICE: HMC CONFERENCE 2020 – CHAIR’S INAUGURAL ADDRESS

STRICTLY EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01 MONDAY, OCTOBER 5

HEAD TEACHERS HAVE SHOWN EXCEPTIONAL LEADERSHIP SKILLS TO NAVIGATE THROUGH THE CHOPPY WATERS OF COVID-19. NOW THEY CAN HELP THE NATION TO HEAL, SAYS NEW HMC CHAIR SALLY-ANNE HUANG

In a speech on the opening day of the HMC Autumn Conference Mrs Huang, who has also just taken over as the first female High Master of St Paul’s School, will outline how some of the world’s most respected schools can help the education system and the country recovery from the pandemic. 

For example, she will highlight the crucial role of independent schools in  being a “life raft” for the arts and the 82% of HMC schools who are engaged in music partnerships with state schools, plus the crucial role of the arts in promoting wellbeing.

“In  HMC schools, we have long been the guardians of music and drama…We are not trying to keep the arts for ourselves – we are trying to keep that precious flame burning so that it is there for others, now and in the future,” Mrs Huang will tell the conference.

She will announce a new national music partnership between HMC and the Music Teachers’ Association.

 Mrs Huang will emphasise that strong institutions such as independent schools will be needed more than ever as the country emerges from the pandemic, saying: “The country needs to recover from multiple wounds. Not only to we need to restore ourselves medically, but in terms of inclusion, education and economics.

“The UK needs its most successful institutions, institutions like ours, more than ever before, to help it heal…”

She will praise fellow heads in both the independent and state sectors for steering education through choppy waters and say that far from being “society’s villains”, independent school leaders increasingly work well with state school colleagues.

She will say they are building a “shared sense of purpose across all schools” because “teachers naturally help other teachers when finding solutions for their pupils.”

 She will add: “Rather than being the ivory tower we can sometimes be perceived to be, we are instead an essential life raft for liberal education, civilized debate about the future, respect for expertise and for the development of sport and of the arts…

“What I do think is new and troubling, is the increasing tendency across society as a whole to look for difference and division rather than common ground.  To look for someone to blame, rather than a solution to a shared problem. At HMC, we are often the people who are blamed, but the reality is, we are willing and able to help with the problem”….

“The country needs to recover from multiple wounds. Not only to we need to restore ourselves medically, but in terms of inclusion, education and economics. The UK needs its most successful institutions, institutions like ours, more than ever before, to help it heal.”  

Mrs Huang will also express her concern about the generation gap, and say she is tired of young people constantly being labelled as snowflakes as they are “remarkable and powerful“.

The Conference, which is taking place privately online because of Covid-19 restrictions, will feature the most diverse list of speakers in the event’s history, including Sonia Watson, CEO of the Stephen Lawrence Trust, comedian Phil Wang and rugby referee Nigel Owens.

Speaking later today (Monday Oct 5), Mrs Huang will say (quotes below are extracts):

“As a Headteacher, you will be used to leading from the front – to being accountable to parents, inspectorates and your colleagues – to deliver the highest possible levels of service in academic provision, pastoral care and co-curricular activities.  We know that’s what we do.  But, since March, we have also been required to provide key-worker childcare centres, to move entire staff and pupil bodies to remote teaching and learning, to devise, monitor and justify the provision of centre assessed GCSE and A level grades for our pupils. To risk assess, staff and manage the re-opening of schools and to make decisions about health care where guidance has been nebulous and last minute - sometimes non-existent. 

“And, that frontline role in the battle against COVID, gives school heads the right to be heard about the future of education post the pandemic.

“If you had told me in March 2019 that I would be addressing a group of people who had spear-headed such innovation and flexibility, who had navigated such impossibly choppy waters, and had stayed energetic, positive and generous in the face of all of this – I might have doubted it would have been possible.

“Teachers work well with teachers, whatever the setting. Thus, the unity between HMC and the Association of School and College Leaders in recent months while we have been tackling algorithms, burn-out and pupil well-being.  And I am delighted that Geoff Barton, the General Secretary of ASCL, will be joining our conference tomorrow.  In the academic year of 2019/20 – before Covid hit, HMC schools gave more than 220,000 hours to partnership work;  if you break that down,  it’s 9,421 days of time (if those were 24 hour days) -  25.88 years of staff time.  If you work on 12 hour days – 18,842 days of time and nearly 52 years.  Since Covid, I know from personal experience that lots of that working is looking at bridging the gap between those who had a positive educational experience during lockdown and those who fell behind.  And that’s not to tick a box on a government worksheet.  It’s because, teachers naturally help other teachers when finding solutions for their pupils.

“As Head of an HMC school I expect to be cast as one of society’s villains. The reality is I’m a girl from Bolton who decided to teach English.  I know that I am much more fortunate than many of my peers since I have always taught in schools where I was offered flexibility of curriculum, smaller class sizes, access to resources.  But I still get out of bed every day to improve things for young people and, increasingly in recent years, not just the young people in my own school.  So I’m not sure why I should be judged more harshly than those in other professions. I’m not a saint and I stand in awe of intensive care nurses, the fire services and care workers. But, to quote Rizzo from Grease – ‘there are worse things I could do’. But none of this is new – this is a well-worn type of stereotyping and prejudice and we are used to it.

“What I do think is new and troubling is the increasing tendency across society as a whole to look for difference and division rather than common ground. To look for someone to blame, rather than a solution to a shared problem. At HMC, we are often the people who are blamed, and, although I would be the first to acknowledge the difference between our budgets and those offer to our colleagues in state schools, the reality is, we are willing and able to help with the problem. Members will all know that, when we spend time with state school heads, we have more that unites than divides us. I don’t believe state school heads have spent the last six months wishing that independent schools didn’t exist but, I do know that they have wished for better-timed announcements, clarity and consistency over exam results and consideration for the mental health of their colleagues and pupils. As have we.

“Where a blitz spirit might have united our grandparents during the second world war, there seems to be a real concern that COVID will divide society further – already the gaps are widening, in mental health, economic stability, and, of course education.  Yes, we await further news from the immunologists and scientists who are seeking to understand the virus and, we hope, provide the world with a vaccine.  But I would suggest that there is another kind of healing that also has to take place. The country needs to recover from multiple wounds. Not only to we need to restore ourselves medically, but in terms of inclusion, education and economics. The UK needs its most successful institutions, institutions like ours, more than ever before, to help it heal. 

“We have the opportunity to heal another wound caused by Covid 19 and the restrictions its arrival generated.  This is in the performing arts.   Stephen King once wrote that ‘life isn’t a support system for art – it’s the other way around’ – and there can never have been clearer evidence of that than in lockdown.  Try getting through those weeks without, music, literature and film. The irony was that, at a period where people were most coming to appreciate the contribution the arts make to their mental health and wellbeing –the arts industries themselves were being decimated.

“The closure of theatres and the impossibility of live performance generally has been devastating. In HMC schools, we have long been the guardians of music and drama.  Not because we think we do them better than anyone else – but because we have the resources to hire specialists and provide facilities.  We will be labelled as elite because our pupils, on average, have more access to orchestras, theatres, and specialist teaching than their friends in state schools.  But are we actually supposed to stop doing these things because our partners in the state sector have been under-resourced? 

“We are not trying to keep the arts for ourselves – we are trying to keep that precious flame burning so that it is there for others – now and in the future. We know that already 82% of HMC schools are engaged in music partnerships with state schools. This week we will also be launching work with the Music Teachers’ Association – the largest and longest established association of music teachers in the UK, which is made up predominantly of state school teachers, to see how we can grow partnership across the sectors further and guarantee the survival of school-based music in a post-Covid world. 

“However, as someone who works with young people every day, I fear that the biggest scar left by 2020, the hardest wound to heal, might be the divide between generations.  I for one am tired of hearing the young described as snowflakes. 

“In this country, I cannot think of a group of young people out of war time, of whom more has been asked or from whom more has been taken than those in our nation’s schools in 2020.  Anyone who, like me, was with 18- year-olds in March when they suddenly learnt that not just their chance to prove themselves in exams, but also all those joyous rites of passage at the end of their school days had been taken from them – anyone who saw them pick themselves up, move on, adapt, they would not call them snowflakes.  Then they had the traumatic mess that was A level results – and now they are being charged £9,000 a year for a university experience which will be remote at best, with the threat of being locked down in halls of residence when they have not had time to make friends or adjust to being away from home. It’s too much.

“We need to heal these wounds for them – continue improving access to our schools, deliver a curriculum that suits their needs, and continue to question what’s going on in our exam system and in our universities.  I know that HMC schools are already pulling in this direction – I know that I am pushing at an open door. 

“But I feel the need now is urgent and that, rather than being the ivory tower we can sometimes be perceived to be  - we are instead an essential life raft for liberal education, civilized debate about the future, respect for expertise and for the development of sport and of the arts.  Because these things were being challenged before COVID.  They were underfunded before lockdown and they are in even worse shape now. Even if we, at HMC, don’t have access to all the young in the UK – we can at least preserve these things for those who are in our care and those who would rather work with us than accuse us.

“For us, our independence is our strength here - because we are free to make creative choices and to challenge assumptions in all these areas.  We can steer this ark through the flood and keep its contents safe for everyone when the storms we are currently encountering have passed.

“But I don’t want to make the young people in our schools out to be helpless victims either.  Because I have enormous faith that they will be the solution to this problem too.  Even before Covid, I was amazed by the extent to which the young people I met were politically aware, socially responsible and engaged with the world.  Yes – they felt disenfranchised by much of what was going on around them – and that was before they got sent home in March – but they also displayed energy, creativity and a sense of purpose.  When they came back to school in September, they were so delighted to be there that I think it’s possible that they may have a unique sense of the value not just of education but of community and social interaction - precisely because of what 2020 has thrust upon them – and this is turning them into a remarkable and powerful generation. 

“Looking out of the window of my office at school, I have a view of our pupils going about their daily business of heading off to lessons, sports pitches and music practice rooms-  and generally enjoying each other’s company which, for all its my job to support them, is enormously motivating to me.  I am reminded of the Thomas Hardy poem known to all English teachers and many GCSE candidates, where the narrator looks out over a bleak, winter landscape, devoid of hope, and is struck by the sudden song of a thrush, who keeps singing with ‘joy illimited’ in spite of the fact that there seems little to celebrate.  And Hardy concludes that there must be ‘some blessed hope whereof he knew and I was unaware’.

“Just so, the positivity and energy of young people gives me hope that healing is possible and that all of us with any sort of influence, and especially those of us working in schools, should keep striving for something better for this generation.  And for all young people, in our own schools and beyond.”

For media questions or interview requests, please contact Media and Communications Officer Jonathan Petre [email protected] 07551 386705 copying HMC’s External Affairs Director Sue Bishop [email protected]

 

Notes to editor:

Ipsos Mori latest veracity index shows 89% of the public trust teachers whilst only 14% trust politicians to tell the truth https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/trust-politicians-falls-sending-them-spiralling-back-bottom-ipsos-mori-veracity-index

Percentage of HMC schools involved in partnerships with state schools (most have multiple programmes)

 

Total: 100%

Academic: 99.3%

Drama: 80.3%

Music: 82.4%

Sport: 98.3%

Any other: 96.9%

 

The economic benefits that independent schools bring to Britain are highlighted in a 2018 report by the independent consultancy Oxford Economics for the Independent Schools Council (ISC), of which HMC is a member. It shows:

 

  • ISC schools make an annual contribution to UK GDP of £11.6 billion
  • More than 257,000 FTE jobs in Britain supported by ISC schools – which is similar to the total number of jobs across Liverpool
  • More than £3.5 billion in tax revenues flowing into the Exchequer each year
  • Annual savings for the taxpayer of £3.0 billion – enough to build 20,000 new affordable homes
  • If ISC schools had not existed during the past 70 years, UK GDP could be around £62 billion per annum lower

 

HMC (the Headmasters' & Headmistresses' Conference) is a professional association of heads of the world's leading independent schools. HMC has 296 members in the British Isles educating more than 200,000 children, plus 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 virtually every year since the first meeting in 1869. HMC today is a thriving, pro-active Association of leading figures in school education. See hmc.org.uk.