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'A concept of education, a love of learning, an interest in the individual'

Posted on: 18 Apr 2016
Posted by: John Claughton

John Claughton, Chief Master of KES Birmingham responds to a Times Magazine article predicting the demise of private schools.

This comment is in response to a Times Magazine Feature on Saturday 16 April 2016.

In Saturday’s Times Sally Williams extrapolates from the closure and amalgamation of a number of independent schools that ‘private schools’ are in crisis.

I’m not sure that the same logic would work in any other industry: the closure of a Tesco or the take-over of Cadbury doesn’t mean that there will be no more supermarkets or chocolate in the world.

It is also an odd time to be predicting such a ‘crisis’ for two different reasons. The first is that independent schools have, by and large, survived the most difficult period of economic decline since 2008 and schools are the subjects of the economy in the same way as any other business. The second is that independent schools spend most of their lives bring criticised for their success: too many Olympic medals, too many BAFTA nominees, too many High Court judges, too many successful applicants to Oxford and Cambridge.

Furthermore, the author sows the seeds of the destruction of her own argument in showing the many different ways in which independent schools have adapted and are adapting to their circumstances. The majority of independent schools have used their independence to be innovative in their curricula, by jettisoning the wafer-thin content of GCSE for IGCSE, by introducing the IB Diploma or taking pre-U, even by creating their own, externally-moderated, programmes instead of GCSE.

Boarding schools have changed their ways of being, through attracting overseas students and being more flexible about boarding and by setting up schools overseas. Day schools, especially day schools that swim in the colder waters of the Midlands and the North, have made strenuous efforts to form strong links with their local communities and raised millions from their alumni for Assisted Places: Manchester Grammar School has raised £25m in less than two decades. King Edward’s School, Birmingham £10m in less than one. And boarding schools are going down the same road with the Springboard initiative.

According to the headline, independent schools are ‘broke and struggling to survive’, whilst at the same time they are criticised elsewhere for high fees and for extravagant capital projects. Independent schools cannot dwell down their gravel drives in a state of chronic complacency, but I don’t know a single independent school that is doing that. All independent schools know that they have to adapt to survive and, in many different ways, they are doing just that.

They also know that they have a concept of education which is one of the few things in the UK that has global recognition, a love of learning, an interest in the individual and the human development of that individual, a commitment to a broad and challenging education inside and outside the classroom.

Independent schools believe that this education remains of value in a rapid and rapidly changing world that will require the capacity to work with others, to communicate, to solve problems, to find some human equilibrium.

If they continue to provide that education, crisis and extinction will be averted.

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About John Claughton

John Claughton is former Chief Master of KES Birmingham, a boys' day school in the heart of the second city priding itself on accessibility to all boys of ability, whatever their situation.