Jonathan Leigh, Master of Marlborough College said that schools must fully embrace the arts and sport alongside traditional academic pursuits if they are to develop the entire character of a pupil.
Following concerns that certain subjects, including music and art, are being sidelined in favour of more academic pursuits, Mr Leigh said that any education system that diminishes the arts, is “missing a trick” as they are “vital” in creating rounded pupils.
He stressed that a healthy music curriculum, covering different disciplines, would be inspirational to any pupil, and that drama can “challenge pupils to think well beyond themselves”.
“These pursuits give pupils individuality within the larger team,” he said. “They learn a lot about themselves, at the same time as contributing to the whole.”
Mr Leigh, who has been Master of Marlborough – a £33,000 per year independent boarding and day school – for two years, also stressed that while GCSE and academic results are important, they are not the “be-all and end all”.
“If everything is just measured in terms of examination results then we are not producing the whole character,” he said. “The whole character is something that is immeasurable. There’s something incredibly exciting about drawing that character out.”
While recognising the advantage public schools have in encouraging these subjects, Mr Leigh also said that much needed to be done to “demystify the difference between state and private education.”
The college currently has an ongoing partnership with Swindon Academy, which sees academy pupils travel to Marlborough to take part in co-curricular activities and clubs, and a new relationship is currently being developed with the rural comprehensive, Pewsey Vale School.
“We have pupils who teach youngsters to read in local primary schools and we have others who travel to nearby Brimble Hill School to help those with multiple learning difficulties.
“As a school, we don’t want to be an isolated enclave of privilege stuck on the corner of a town,” he continued. “We would like to be able to contribute the best of what we offer, so we are not simply cocooned in a bubble.”
Addressing the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference in October last year, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, told private school heads that they had to offer state schools more than just “crumbs off your table” in order to bridge the gap between state and private education.
However, Mr Leigh said that rather than simply looking at academy sponsorship and “imposing set values”, the key for independent schools is to “get involved in a multitude of different projects”.
According to figures released by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) last year, while less than three per cent of public schools currently sponsor academies, 92 per cent are involved in active partnerships with state schools; sharing classes, clubs and facilities.
Yet critics say that more could still be done by private schools to lessen the gap between state and independent education.
Ahead of next year's General Election, last week the Sutton Trust set out suggestions in its new ''mobility manifesto', calling for the barriers between state and private schools to be broken down.
The Trust called for support – including state funding – for a scheme to open up leading fee-paying day schools, with pupils admitted based on their academic abilities rather than their family's ability to pay.
However, according to Mr Leigh, a high percentage of independent schools are currently working to break down these barriers, by forming lasting local partnerships.
“Marlborough is an Anglican foundation that goes back to 1843 and, as such, it’s got one of those classic mottoes ‘Deus dat incrementum’ (god gives the increase),” he said.
“The implication is that if you’ve been given the increase, you are meant to do something responsible with what you have acquired. Part of that is to understand that this is an increase that is meant to be shared."
Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of the ISC, said the council had a "strong commitment to social mobility" and that there were many ways independent schools currently contribute to maintained schools and to the community:
"We have over 110 independent schools, either individually or in partnership with federations or groups of schools, who are leading the sector’s involvement with academies and free schools," he said.
“But sponsoring academies is one way we contribute. Our schools work with maintained schools in all sorts of ways: to offer GCSE or A-level revision classes; classes in subjects not on offer at some state schools, such as classics and languages; university entrance workshops and mock interviews; aspiration programmes; shared subject workshops and talks, as well as support or coaching with music, drama and sport."
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