It's time for a reset on politicians' nonsensical attitudes toward independent schools

Posted on: 30 Mar 2015

Independent schools are absolutely part of the community, says one leading Headmaster. Philip Britton, Head of Bolton School, Boys’ Division, says there is no divide in the North…

When we hear politicians assert independent schools are not connected and need to step up and be involved, the argument simply makes no sense - not just to us at school but also to the whole local area.

We are connected and involved. Bolton School, in keeping with most of the independent schools in the northern towns and cities, has its roots very firmly embedded in the local area. Most local people know the school, respecting it for being part of Bolton life. Many have connections with the school, either now or in the past. The school as a business is one of the more significant medium size enterprises and employs mostly local people. Links with the local council are frequent, as are links with local schools. The school is invited to civic occasions and town life is invited into the school.

The success of the town and region is important for our success and we have an active part to play in that. To ensure things are connected we meet twice a year with the local Director of Children’s Services.

We seek to lead in terms of academic aspiration for the town.

Our sixth formers have helped tutor on a summer course for year 10 pupils run by the University; we have mentors reading with year 8 pupils at a senior school and we run, through the charity SHINE, a Saturday morning school for twelve weeks a year raising the aspirations of 40 local year 5 pupils (in the area within a mile of the school there are 10 primary schools with above average free school meals ratios). Last year we linked up with a primary cluster of schools to work on a level 6 maths project, with two teachers from school tutoring. It worked – the results improved. This year we are delighted to have received an Independent State School Partnerships Grant to carry that work on with even more schools.

Over the last five years, in partnership with the Institute of Physics and Ogden Trust, we have employed a physics teacher who then spends three days a week out in a dozen secondary schools working with the teachers.

We are also very much involved in promoting sport, organising and hosting a whole range of events.

Our football coach spends two days a week out in primary schools. We are an MMCF cricket hub and an ISFA Focus School for Girls’ Football. Our outdoor learning expertise has also been usefully shared. Most recently and innovatively, we have been using our expertise and contacts to link primary schools using their sports premium to purchase high quality provision from a range of partners.

With all this activity, you can imagine how ridiculous the claim that independent schools should start to play fixtures against local schools sounded. We do that, of course, and they are some of our more vigorous encounters. But such a token thought misses the mark of our deep engagement by a good margin.

Academic aspiration and sport are just two examples. Every sixth former does at least 20 hours of community action, much respected and appreciated by a whole range of local charities who need hands on help. And we do all this as an inclusive school community.

One in five senior school pupils has a bursary, one in twelve in the school have a full bursary, with this funded through enormously generous charitable giving by a wide group of former pupils. The typical sentiment expressed by an Old Boy or Girl is that the school has done so much for them in their lives, that they must give a chance to the next generation. This is the real engine of social mobility and the chance to multiply the impact of education into the future.

So as we strive to reset the attitude to independent schools and the Independent Schools Council Manifesto out today is seeking to do just that, there are some key messages for politicians.

Think locally not nationally, think about strategic partnership not one off initiatives and, above all, notice that so much of what is desired is already happening.

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The ISC Press Office posts blogs on behalf of ISC schools and Associations.