Richard Harman’s keynote speech to Annual HMC Conference of UK’S Leading Independent Schools

‘Stop scapegoating independent schools. Stop using them as lazy shorthand for the social ills of our country. Move beyond resentment and take collective pride in the fact that Britain is home to some of the very best schools in the world.’

Richard Harman, Headmaster of Uppingham School and Chairman of HMC, will use his keynote speech today (29 September 2014) to the annual conference of the Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference to appeal to Government and policymakers to change the tone of their conversation with the UK’s independent schools.

Speaking to an audience of 260 heads of the UK’s leading independent schools, Richard Harman will say that ‘When it comes to social mobility, we are part of the solution, not the root of the problem. We can’t solve all of society’s ills – education is part of the answer but economic, family and social policy matter too. We’re not a laboratory for social engineering, just as universities are not.

‘Deploying lazy stereotypes, making school type a proxy for advantage, as Alan Milburn and others are inclined to do, just won’t cut it. Too often those in power are embarrassed to be seen talking with us, preferring instead to threaten us with loss of charitable status or more state control.

‘Attacking the excellence of the education we provide will never help solve the problem of social mobility – a disease which does not just affect the UK. We are, and want to continue to be, part of the solution to this country’s and the world’s challenges. We have powerful charitable instincts and a desire to share excellence and best practice.’

Mr Harman will say that apart from the parents in the UK who are making real sacrifices to send their children to HMC schools, there were also many parents abroad looking to get the best education for their children in the UK.  ‘Our schools remain uniquely placed to insist on the vital importance of a liberal, holistic education for children in the 21st century. Academic success and excellent exam results are necessary but not sufficient.

‘HMC is now defined both by its quality and its diversity. Our membership criteria guarantee quality, but we are all different shapes and sizes. Contrary to lazy media stereotypes, we are not all cut from one kind of cloth. What does mark us out is that we are all genuinely independent, not funded by the State or local authority; we are directly accountable to parents, with whom as Heads we have a specific written contract.

‘Why do parents choose to send their children to our schools? Because our schools are constantly searching for and sustaining academic excellence, in every individual child we teach.  It can hardly be headline news that our pupils go on to do well in university entrance; nor that they progress to stimulating graduate jobs in the public, private and third sectors. Furthermore, university faculties in science, engineering, technology, medicine and dentistry, modern languages and classics depend on a strong supply of candidates from our schools. We are a crucial academic resource, sending out pupils who go on to the best universities, take full advantage of academic opportunities and give back to society and the economy throughout their working lives.’

Sponsorship, partnerships and financial assistance

‘With independent schools across the UK now more ethnically diverse than their state-maintained counterparts, we are enabling new models of social cohesion. With our diverse connections to the state-maintained sector, we are supporting a range of activities and achievements which benefit both sides of the equation. 97% of us report partnership activity of one kind or another.  Sponsorship may be a good way to go for some of us, but it is far from the only way of making a real difference. Already HMC schools provide £365 million annually in financial support to our pupils – a million pounds a day and rising.’

Economic impact

‘A recent Oxford Economics report found that independent schools add nearly £12 billion to UK GDP each year – equivalent to the economic impact of the city of Bristol. For every two pupils in our schools, one full-time equivalent job is supported, in the school or local economy. More than £4.7 billion in tax revenue flows annually into the Exchequer from the direct activity of independent schools. By educating our pupils we save the taxpayer £3.9 billion a year, equivalent to building more than 590 new free schools annually. We are not a drain on national resources; we add significant value to UK plc.’

New teacher training initiative

Mr Harman announced a new teacher training initiative, developed by HMC, working with the University of Buckingham. ‘It will provide us with a strong voice in recruiting fresh talent. Many good people have left teaching because they found themselves spending so much of their time filling in paperwork and trying to hit narrow, sterile performance measures, missing the bigger picture. We want to keep good people in teaching by inviting them to work in schools where these things do not predominate.’

Justice in the exam system

‘We are, it seems, a lone voice in scrutinising the work of Ofqual, that body which should be guaranteeing justice in our exam system. When Ofqual reports that 6% of examiners are “inadequate”, someone needs to jump up and down demanding higher standards. 6% translates to 950,000 scripts inadequately marked. That’s just not good enough. We would welcome a charter containing at least four points: clear comparability between subjects and boards; accountability with regard to examiners; proactive responsibility; a fair enquiries and appeals process (to use its own metaphor, Ofqual should provide air traffic control, not air crash investigation).  We’re not whining on behalf of our own pupils or trying to get them an advantage. We’re performing an important public service.’

Media requests for Richard Harman or for a copy of the full text of his speech: Sheila Thompson on 07958 307 637 or at [email protected]

Notes for editors

HMC (the Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference) is a professional Association of  Heads of the world’s leading independent schools. HMC has 260 members in the British Isles educating more than 200,000 children, and a further 60 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, proactive Association of leading figures in school education. See

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Click here to download the full speech.

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