Public schools are not elitist, says Blundell’s head

Western Morning News, 06/09/14, Nicola Huggett, Head of Blundell's School, hits out at charges of elitism, saying that “we’re not all like Eton”.

A report published last week by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said Britain was still ruled by an elite “formed on the playing fields of independent schools’’ and “finished in Oxbridge’s dreaming spires’’.

The organisation researched the background of more than 4,000 people who run Britain and found that privately educated Oxbridge graduates are dramatically over-represented in public life.

But Nicola Huggett, headteacher at the £30,000-a-year Blundell’s School, in Tiverton, said most private schools worked hard to provide bursaries and scholarships – as well as opening up their facilities to state schools and community groups.

“I think that, along with many headteachers, I feel aggrieved when we are accused of being elitist because there isn’t a single private school that I know of that doesn’t have bursaries and scholarships,” she said.

“I think we do work really hard to make sure that we attract people from different backgrounds. That side of it is never reported in the media.”

The commission’s report found that while only 7 per cent of members of the public attended a private school, 71 per cent of senior judges, 62 per cent of senior armed forces officers, 55 per cent of Whitehall permanent secretaries, 50 per cent of House of Lords members and 43 per cent of newspaper columnists were privately educated.

Alan Milburn, the Labour former cabinet minister who chairs the commission, said that this meant that many talented people were locked out of top jobs making “Britain's leading institutions less informed, less representative and, ultimately, less credible than they should be.”

But Mrs Huggett said that Blundell’s and schools like it worked hard to encourage social diversity.

“You get painted with a very broad brush and we’re not all like Eton. We don’t all have huge endowments on which to draw. Our parents sacrifice a huge amount for their children to come here and I’m endlessly grateful for that because it’s tough for lots of people.”

She added: “I’m pleased that we are linked with different local sports clubs. Tiverton Swimming Club and Heathcoat Cricket Club have used our sport facilities. “I think private schools have a responsibility to be open with their facilities when they’re not using them. I think that’s another thing we can do. Education in its broadest sense is what every child deserves. It doesn’t matter where you go to school, you should have the chance to do music, sport or drama, or whatever you’re interested in, because that’s how you inspire children to learn.”

Established in 1604, Blundell’s has 800 pupils, with 580 in the senior school. Mrs Huggett, who took up the reins in January 2013, is the school’s first female headteacher.

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