It's time to change school prejudice

Posted on: 04 Feb 2015

Independent schools are portrayed as all top hats, tail coats and toffs. It's time to set the record straight and leave this 1930s image behind, writes Charlotte Vere, acting general secretary of ISC.

Our Election 2015 Manifesto is out today. It represents the collective views of our eight membership associations, nearly 1,300 independent schools. We can only hope that our manifesto in some small way influences policy but, more importantly than that, we want to take the opportunity to reset the relationship that independent schools have with the world outside the school gates.

For too long, independent schools have been defined by outdated stereotypes and ill-informed preconceptions. Three years ago Sir Michael Wilshaw said that there is a ‘Berlin Wall’ between the state and the independent sectors. The idea, if not the fact, has persisted.

Statements such as these are unhelpful; they prevent independent schools from offering all that they could do and should do to benefit the education of all children in this country. It is time now to tear the barriers down; we want to be seen for what we really are and what we can offer.

The continued use of school type as a proxy for wealth is endemic within government and in other organisations. It is meaningless and a lazy stereotype that helps no one. There are disadvantaged children in independent schools just as there are advantaged children in the state sector. We should focus on the individual not the institution and use contextual information about each child.

Independent schools are so often portrayed as some kind of one trick, very posh, pony. But ISC schools are enormously diverse: from the well-known traditional boarding schools, to much smaller day schools, well known only in their local communities. Most ISC schools are not large or well-endowed - 55% of our schools have 350 pupils or less.

But independent schools are a vital part of the educational landscape and many are the envy of the world for their first rate academic achievements, the excellent pastoral care and the extraordinary range of extra-curricular activities. We have a lot to offer and we want to share; we must all put aside dated stereotypes and extend a hand of collaboration and partnership instead.

90% of our schools work in partnership with the state sector and local communities. These partnerships are vibrant, meaningful and start at the local level where teachers can discuss local needs and local solutions.

Our schools are also making strenuous efforts to increase the amount of bursaries they can offer. Over 41,000 children receive bursaries at our schools, averaging £7,894 per child, and 5,400 pupils pay no fees at all. We want to be able to offer these potentially life changing opportunities to even more children.

So it is time to drop the outdated stereotypes and choose a positive view of the future. Let us focus on what our real priority should be: educating children.

Read the ISC 2015 Manifesto in full here.

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