The Telegraph, 04.03.16, long school days and access to extra-curricular activities create the skills that set private school pupils apart, says HMC member Keith Budge, Headmaster of leading independent Bedales School.
Reading the Sutton Trust’s recent report on the educational backgrounds of the UK's professional elite, I am taken back nearly 20 years to a large assembly hall in a faceless RAF base in Lincolnshire, where heads of independent and maintained schools were gathered to hear venerable, senior members of our three armed services tell us why we should be encouraging our students to join the Navy, Army and RAF.
New Labour was about to be elected and John Reid, then shadow Defence Secretary took to the stage. Early on in his session he was asked a question by a maintained school head: "What are you going to do about the current, unacceptable situation which means that such a high proportion of officers recruited to the British Army are privately educated?"
Reid’s comment surprised us all: "Well, rather than trying to limit the numbers coming from private schools, I am going to look at why such a high proportion of those applying from private schools have what the Army is looking for – and then work with my colleagues in education to give more of our young people coming through the state sector the same qualities that clearly these successful applicants have."
The approach taken by New Labour and subsequently both by the Coalition and current Government has been to attempt to bring various elements of independent schools’ DNA to the state system, with the academy programme being the clearest example.
Within the independent sector, the growth of partnerships between state and independent schools has shown that there is plenty of willingness from both sectors to work together for the benefit of young people.
The Sutton Trust does commendable work in increasing the access for particularly able maintained sector students to top independent day schools through its Open Access scheme (which it would like to see expanded) and through its Pathways and summer school programmes.
Meanwhile the money committed to means-tested based financial assistance (aka bursaries) from within the independent sector grows year by year – according to the Independent Schools’ Council, these bursaries are valued at £340 million, supporting 41,400 pupils.
Within my school, the most popular fundraising cause has consistently been for bursaries to broaden access to the school – above all to bring people here on 100 per cent awards.
There are many areas of the Sutton Trust report which are intriguing, but for me the discussion about ‘soft skills’ is one of the most interesting. The report’s executive summary refers to the idea that “increasing importance is being attributed by recruiters to ‘soft skills’, including certain social skills which are not always as accessible to those from less privileged backgrounds.”
The main reason for this is far from dramatic but simply has to do with the time spent at school and the access to extra-curricular activities and teachers who are on hand to chat to students.
Compare a characteristic independent day school day with its maintained sector equivalent: it starts shortly after 8am and continues until at least 5pm each day with Saturday morning school and matches for many on Saturday afternoon; whereas the typical maintained sector seven hour day is, by contrast, mainly limited to the academic curriculum and, by comparison, curtailed.
Even accounting for the shorter holidays in the maintained sector, you have close to 40 per cent more time in school in an independent day school compared to a maintained day school. If you compare independent boarding schools with these two categories, the difference is even starker: days at boarding schools will typically be at least 13 hours involved in lessons, pastoral guidance and extra-curricular activities; many will be involved in activities over the weekends.
The step up in terms of time in school is at least another third on top of the independent day school figure – and close to double the contact time that a student will have in a maintained day school. It is not surprising that in the Sutton Trust report, of the ten private schools cited as providing 8 per cent of those listed in 'Who’s Who', eight are boarding schools.
In raw statistics, these ten schools represent 0.3 per cent of the school population and yet they provide 8 per cent of the entries to Who’s Who.
Finally – the key question – what’s the reason for these massive gaps in the student experience? Is it all about resources, space, money, social conditioning?
Taking out the boarding school element and focussing simply on the contrast between the two different day school experiences, I believe the main reason has to do with the nature of the teachers’ vocation: the expectation in the independent sector is that all teachers will be involved in extra-curricular activities and in pastoral care.
For many of us it remains one of the major attractions of working in these schools. I still cherish the three academic societies I run – opportunities to engage with young people outside the classroom are meat and drink to people like me and my colleagues.
I spend a lot of my time enjoying seeing our young people do amazing things outside the classroom – whether at a blacksmith’s forge, learning a new hockey skill or playing a musical instrument. While the willingness of the independent sector teacher to commit to the long day continues, the ‘soft skill’ discrepancy will remain.
Read more © The Telegraph