Let’s end the divisive rhetoric damaging private and state school relations

It has not been a excellent number of weeks for private and state school relations.

The shadow schooling secretary, Tristram Hunt, threatened a reduction of tax breaks for independent schools that fail to support their state colleagues. Hunt was accused of starting up a “class war”, his outdated headteacher described the ideas as “offensive bigotry” and Sam Freedman, Teach 1st director, argued that state schools don’t want the personal sector’s tips.

Richard Harman, the head of a top personal school and chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), would like to end the rhetoric of division. He applauds Hunt’s enthusiasm for independent and state partnerships, but says the shadow minister has gone about items the wrong way.

“The language of tax breaks is inaccurate and unhelpful,” Harman says.

“Independent colleges make a key contribution to the country economically and it is essential to emphasise that. Implying that the tax payer is subsidising independent colleges ignores their financial contribution.”

Harman, headteacher of Uppingham school in Rutland, England, compares Hunt’s proposals to forced marriage state and personal partnerships are about relationships and they work best when each side has an equal stake.

He adds that there are very a number of hurdles to overcome for Hunt’s strategy to come collectively. “It begs a quantity of queries about the law and legislation and how it would perform in practice – who is going to oversee this?”

A greater technique, says Harman, would be to use regional college commissioners to carry state and independent colleges together on a voluntary basis to talk about best practice – rather than taking a prime-down approach.

Harman is at pains to make it clear that the common independent school pupil is not the wing-collared stereotype portrayed by some in the media, nationwide politicians or individuals who see themselves as “class warriors” – nor are they total of foreign oligarchs’ kids.

“The typical independent school, specifically independent day colleges in major regional centres outdoors of London, has a pupil population that really displays their local communities, and they are serving them. These colleges are usually ignored by national politicians and the media to make their very own political points and serve their very own functions.”

Though the 2013 census of the Independent Schools Council showed the number of foreign college students rose 1.4% while the variety of house-grown students stagnated, according to Harman, this variety fell somewhat this yr.

Without a doubt, Harman defends the global make-up of specified private schools. Some are “validly international” and that’s a great thing, bringing fantastic diversity and talent to the United kingdom.

“There is a very good side to the global student marketplace and our colleges are in large demand from aspiring households overseas. But the real facts and numbers present that they are not by any means flooding our schools or something like that. Yes, some schools are worldwide and some have foreign students in them, like mine, but still 85-90% of college students live in the United kingdom. It’s a complete parody to say that we are being taken in excess of by oligarchs. It’s nonsense.”

Elsewhere, the HMC have been functioning with the Association of School and College Leaders to scrutinise the examination regulator Ofqual. In 2012 HMC published a report exposing the “truly shocking” failings in the way exams are marked the union criticised weaknesses such as bad marking, inconsistencies between exam boards and fluctuating grade boundaries.

Despite strain, exam marking hasn’t enhanced enough, says Harman. This yr some universities accepted folks even though they only just produced the grade, which meant that some troubles remained hidden. “So some flaws in the marking system in no way fairly came to light, but the ones that did present some difficulties in the program have not been eradicated and we need to have to keep pressure to make Ofqual demand substantial top quality marking from the exam boards.”

“One of the issues is around making positive that there is fairness in the marking amongst boards and subjects. My school may possibly have taken one board in historical past and not had problems but yet another could have employed a distinct board and had issues.”

English GCSEs proved notably unstable, he says. “Cohorts of pupils with the very same basic profile of capability and taught using the very same simple technique to teaching had extremely volatile final results. This can only be explained away by vagary, or rogue marking or troubles at the examination boards’ finish.”

Harman stresses that the stress they are applying to improve Ofqual is not just for the benefit of private school pupils. “HMC stepped up to plate and stated one thing is not correct and we are going to pursue it. We took leadership with that and that has benefitted the complete method.”

But Harman does concede that it’s a two-way street. “Teaching demands passion, a wish to convey a topic with enthusiasm and an potential to manage the class in front of you. There are examples of excellent teaching in the two sectors so let’s end the rhetoric that divides the sectors. Teaching young children presents diverse issues depending on the college and the time. But let’s get away from the language of division and comparison and get onto what we can find out from every single other.”

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