Bridging the Gap

Posted on: 30 Sept 2014

Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, this morning gave a speech at the Social Market Foundation and Sutton Trust fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference: ‘Bridging the Independent and State Divide’.

He says that independent schools are strong supporters of social mobility but that they cannot be bullied. Developing meaningful partnerships with state schools and making a difference to social mobility takes programmes and proposals that need care, time and expertise. He also says that the biggest impact on social mobility would be for the government to work with independent schools to help provide more places for children.

Barnaby Lenon, former headmaster of Harrow, says:

“We must be careful not to jump on the band wagon and expect all schools to sponsor academies. We must not be bullied. Sponsoring academies can work for schools with the resources and expertise but it is not the only way forward for our schools. Many make a real difference by working in partnership with their local state schools. Most of our schools are very involved and work must develop between Head teachers really wanting to work together, out of genuine local relationships and enthusiasms, not dictated from the top.

“Many of our schools have been doing this kind of work for years, unsung. There are now many flourishing independent state school partnerships, but they struggle for money and many could do even more valuable work with a helping hand, government money to encourage them to grow and expand.

“Our schools work with maintained schools in all sorts of ways: to offer GCSE or A-level revision classes; classes in subjects not on offer at some state schools, such as classics and languages; university entrance workshops and mock interviews; aspiration programmes; shared subject workshops and talks, as well as support or coaching with music, drama and sport. Most of our schools share their facilities with the community and are glad to do so.

“But in the longer term, what would have an even bigger impact on social mobility would be to help more of the nation’s pupils go to our schools. Our schools are recognised as being some of the best in the world, so why not open up a capped number of places to more children, subsidised up to the cost of a state school place, by the government. The Sutton Trust have developed proposals and one hundred of our schools have signed up to offer more places.

“If government truly want independent schools to help improve social mobility, they need to work with us. It is not fair to expect parents, many of whom struggle to pay fees themselves, who have already paid once through their taxes and a second time through their fees, to help a third time by funding our schools to help state schools.

“Independent schools already have a strong commitment to supporting social mobility and would like to be able to offer more places to children that deserve but can’t afford them. One in three pupils at our schools already have some kind of fee assistance and ISC schools provided £660 million in fee assistance last year.”

Barnaby Lenon himself attended Eltham College on a local authority assisted places scheme, a scheme that was widespread in some of the most successful schools in the sixties and seventies. At Eton he helped set up a summer school for state school children; at Trinity Croydon in 1997 he set up a partnership system and at Harrow established over twenty partnership schemes, including the Chelsea Academy, expanding the John Lyons charity and setting up three overseas schools to fund £2 million per year in bursaries.


Notes to editors:

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) brings together eight associations of independent schools, their Heads, bursars and governors. These collectively represent over 1,200 independent schools in the UK and overseas, educating more than half a million children each year. For more information please visit the ISC website: