Last week in the Times former Education Secretary Michael Gove suggested that not only should the charitable status of independent schools be ended but also that that VAT should be charged on school fees. He was critical too of the support given to private school cadet forces.
He went on to say that “the fees for these schools are all more than £30,000 per year.” ‘They are out of reach for all save the very wealthiest’ he goes on to say. He then questions just who gets the bursaries that are offered.
How wrong can Mr Gove be in one article? It is though a concerning attack on the private school system. It is particularly disappointing that he seems to see all independent schools as the same. We do not charge even half of the fee he quotes. We offer bursaries to well over 100 children, many of them from the most deprived parts of the city. This year we had over 90 applicants from families desperate to give their children a brilliant education and one which sadly is not always available to them in the Schools in their local neighbourhoods for which Mr Gove had responsibility until recently. We could take many more of the deprived students Mr Gove states that he is so keen to support if only the government would work with us to find creative ways of extending the reach of independent schools.
Of course, if all of Mr Gove’s plans were to be adopted it would be a major challenge for the independent sector. If this were to happen the state would have to take them all into the maintained sector at considerable additional cost to the public purse. The Independent Schools council quotes research from Oxford Economics in 2014 which found that the saving to the taxpayer from the 500,000 pupils in Independent Schools Council schools not being in state education is worth £3 billion, while the tax revenues generated by these schools is £3.6 billion. ISC schools additionally contribute £9.5 billion to the UK economy and the sector supports well over 200,000 jobs in the UK. Can the state really afford to take on the extra burden – each child transferring from an independent school would cost the state £5,500 to educate? What too would he propose to replace all the fantastic work being done by schools like ours in supporting children in maintained schools with a wide variety of activities. Would the government really start to fund the Sunday cricket coaching that we provide to local children, or organise a cross-country event for over 400 primary aged children or provide opportunities for children across the city to hear about Oxbridge entrance. The opportunities that he criticises us for providing in CCF are also opened up to a local state school – would he really replace the support that we are able to give them in setting up in due course their own contingent? Would he really pay for the local primary school in one of the toughest inner-city area to take their children on a residential weekend? His plans would decimate the fantastic work that so many schools do to support those in the local area.
Sadly he does not list those really deprived areas of Nottingham where we are offering bursary places too but places like St. Ann’s or the Meadows are very similar to those that he does name such as Knowsley or Sunderland and our bursaries reach into these communities. Teachers working in primary schools in these areas, many of them suffering cuts to budgets, see the fantastic opportunity that our education with a bursary offers and recommend their students to us. In return a charity linked with our school helps to fund such things as breakfast clubs or residential trips in these same schools.
It would make much more sense for the government to take up the offer of 10,000 extra free places in schools such as ours which the Independent Schools Council has offered. This would entail the government transferring the money which they are already paying to send these children to state schools to us and we would then top up the additional costs of these places.
Mr Gove wants to take the additional money his scheme would raise so that he could offer it to the most disadvantaged children in society – those in care. He is clearly just completely unaware that schools like mine are already supporting such children in our schools and thanks to our bursary provision they are given a fantastic opportunity and superb pastoral care.
He speaks of those attending our schools as the ‘global super-rich’ – I am not sure that our parents would recognise this group in our school. As I have said before, our parents are much more likely to be taxi-drivers than hedge fund managers. Many more of our parents are making huge sacrifices because they believe in the importance of education in a way that governments of whatever political hue seldom do.
Mr Gove, please come and visit schools such as mine which provide a really amazing range of opportunities to all of the children we educate irrespective of their background. Many of those on bursaries with us will be the first from their families to reach university and many of them will go on to give back in society in so many ways just as Ken Clarke, a former Tory politician of considerable reputation, has done since he came to our school on an assisted place. Perhaps Mr Gove should read the section in his autobiography when he talks of the contribution that Nottingham High School gave him as a result of his supported place.
Far from being the problem that Michael Gove suggests we are, why not see us as part of the solution?
By Kevin Fear, Headmaster, Nottingham High School