Are we really bad people pretending to be good?

Posted on: 10 Mar 2016
Posted by: John Claughton

John Claughton, Chief Master at King Edward's School in Birmingham, offers his rebuttal to Sir Michael Wilshaw's recent comments criticising independent schools.

In his history of the first century AD, the Roman historian Tacitus seems to decide that there really are only two types of people, bad people and bad people who are pretending to be good people.

Sir Michael Wilshaw feels the same way about independent schools, if his words at the Sutton Trust conference are to be taken seriously.

He berated independent schools for not running academies, a task beyond almost all of them, and for stealing teachers to ship them overseas and then suggested that, when independent schools do actually work with state schools, it’s merely a token gesture made by independent schools to stave off the four horsemen of the Charities Commission. They are just pretending to be nice.

The Sutton Trust is an organisation which is trying to work with all schools in this country, including independent schools, in pursuit of greater social mobility and independent schools, in the glory days of the Direct Grant scheme, were great engines of social mobility. So, it’s a shame that Sir Michael should hold forth in this way. Independent schools can be part of the solution to increasing social mobility and there are many ways that this can happen.

Over 97% of independent schools are engaged in partnership work with state schools and the activities of some schools, like Brighton College and Highgate and Eton College, are very extensive. At King Edward’s School in Birmingham, we are engaged in working with 192 different junior schools, providing everything from sport to Maths competitions for 100 junior schools to training for hundreds of junior school teachers. This project involves over fifty of the school’s teachers and hundreds of its boys. It’s no tokenism.

Independent schools are also making large, and ever growing, commitment to the provision of means-tested Assisted Places. Of the day schools of this country, Manchester Grammar School has led the way, raising over £25m for that purpose since 1997. At King Edward’s we have done our bit, too: we spend £2m a year on Assisted Places and our alumni have raised nearly £10m for that purpose in the last six years. That means that 100 boys are here for free out of 850 and over 200 are here with some means-tested support.

Last week the Sutton Trust’s survey of the top people in our society came predominantly from independent schools. Those schools know that they are fortunate in what they are able to provide and every independent head I know would like to share what they had in the most constructive way. Sir Michael Wilshaw’s intervention does not take us one step nearer the purpose of the Sutton Trust conference, an increase in social mobility.

This blog is in response to Sir Michael Wilshaw's speech at Best in Class conference, run by the Sutton Trust.

John Claughton

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.