Threatening charitable status of independent schools is like “pointing a gun at our heads”, HMC chair says

TES, 03.10.16, HMC conference to hear that forcing independent and state schools to work together is 'like an arranged marriage'. Helen Ward reports on HMC Chair Mike Buchanan's keynote address at the HMC Conference 2016.

The government cannot expect good collaboration between independent and state schools when school leaders feel there is “a gun pointing to our heads”, a leading independent school head will say today.

Mike Buchanan, headteacher of Ashford School, Kent, will tell the influential Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents large public schools, that using the threat of withdrawing charitable status from independents unless they do more work with the state sector, is "a blunt instrument".

The proposals to change the conditions attached to independent schools' charitable status are included in the government's controversial consultation paper Schools That Work for Everyone, which also includes plans for a new wave of grammar schools.

“Independent and state schools cannot make our relationships work with a gun pointing at our heads,” Mr Buchanan will say in his incoming speech as chairman of the HMC. “We hope the prime minister understands that – after all she had the good sense to outlaw forced marriages as Home Secretary.

"She must know then that all good partnerships are based on mutual desire, understanding, respect and co-operation. They work best when the parties have a good deal in common.

"Thus, in the messy, complex real world, forcing independent and state schools together, is fraught with practical difficulties and ultimately, is unlikely to work.”

He will add that the all of the schools in the HMC, which represents 282 top independent schools, are already involved in partnerships with state schools.

The Schools That Work for Everyone consultation paper proposes that independent schools that have the “capacity and capability” should either offer a certain proportion of places as fully-funded bursaries or sponsor an academy or set up a new free school in the state sector and take responsibility for ensuring its success.

There are currently 39 HMC schools involved in sponsoring 137 state schools.

Mr Buchanan will point out that schools chose certain charitable activities over others because “they know what will work in their context” and that favouring sponsoring an academy could put at risk other programmes.

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