The furore caused by Tristan Hunt’s attempt at vote grabbing with the traditional rash and frankly irrational sideswipe does not surprise me in the least. It’s the usual ‘you bash us and we’ll bash you back’ nonsense that goes on between politicians and educationalists in the build-up to an election. Mr Hunt is inevitably testing his market to see what works and what washes. He wouldn’t be the first politician who has benefited from an independent school education only to stick it back to the sector.
It didn’t even surprise me that his proposed policy was both ill-informed and poorly thought out. This has, of course, brought about most of the criticism as independent schools and their excellent umbrella organisations pointing out the well-rehearsed and tangible benefits of independent education in terms of its savings for the public purse and how much it puts back into the British economy both in the short and long term.
What did surprise me, however, is the fact that the state schools who would be the unwitting recipients of this new found ‘support’, offered only to save a few quid, have not been up in arms to attack Mr Hunt for his outright condescension and patronising attitude and for believing that state schools would welcome a partnership with independent schools just so that the latter can maintain their charitable status.
In my experience, good state schools have innumerable good and outstanding teachers across a range of departments. They benefit from excellent leadership and a high level of parental support. They do not need their independent colleagues suggesting that they can help them to do better or to show them facilities that they could be working with in a manner that reminds me of the Bull’s-eye mantra of the 1980s “look at what you could have won”. I’ve worked in both sectors and it’s a choice, not a prize. Neither do the students need to be injected with a feast of independent school teaching when they already enjoy such good delivery at their own schools. Equally, where schools are not quite so successful and are struggling either to resurrect or redeem themselves they do not require a partnership that would create a distraction. Which independent schoolteacher or leader could assist with how to manage behaviour in an inner city school? If we could show anyone how to double or triple their budget then they might listen once they have finished working their 60-80 hour week to keep their heads above water. Teachers in the independent sector do, of course, also work such hours but with less contact time, better facilities, generally more co-operative parents and students and deliver an enormous number of hours in extra-curricular provision - then to enjoy a well-earned longer break (just to rub it in, if we needed to). What Mr. Hunt really needs to think about is how to improve the facilities and create the time for good practice in maintained schools and not just bash others to do it for him.
All of the above ignores the fact that there are already an enormous number of successful state-independent school partnerships that do help students, develop teachers and share a range of excellent practice. The difference is that none of these needed Mr Hunt’s threats or condescension.