ISC responds to independent school 'crisis' headlines

Posted on: 07 Feb 2016
Posted by: Barnaby Lenon

Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of ISC, responds to claims made against independent schools by the editor of the Good Schools Guide.

This response was published in the TES, following the original story in the same publication.

We should not be surprised when Lord Lucas, an elderly hereditary peer and owner of The Good Schools Guide, seeks publicity for his book. There is a superfluity of such guides and many are given away free with magazines. No, what is surprising is that when this Old Etonian stated that in his elevated opinion there are now some good state schools, newspapers fell over themselves to report him.

What’s going on here? What’s going on is that Lord Lucas was for years ignorant of the fact that there are high achieving state schools in England. They are mainly highly selective grammar schools in prosperous areas and their A-level results have always been good. So well done, Good Schools Guide, for spotting this - at last.
Independent schools have always faced competition from grammar schools. Some know that a good proportion of the pupils they take are grammar school rejects. These independent schools, therefore, take pride in the fact that their A-level results are often better than the grammar school nearby. In the Department for Education league table of 2015 A-level points per pupil, independent schools occupied 88 of the top 100 places. Last year a third of independent school GCSE entries were awarded an A* compared to 7% nationally.

This would be less impressive if fee-charging schools were very selective academically - but most are not. There are a few well-known schools that are very over-subscribed, very selective and who achieve outstanding results, but equally impressive are the great majority which barely select at all but where most pupils achieve very good grades. And for most of our schools good exam results are only a part of what we achieve.

Independent schools have been working with state schools for some years to help them, if and where they need it. We do not regard this as a zero sum game – all schools, state and private, will improve over time. Independent schools have the big advantage of greater spending per pupil, state schools have the advantage that they charge no fees and, if successful, can attract thousands of applicants a year. I am chairman of governors of the London Academy of Excellence, a successful state school in east London backed by six excellent independent schools. We believe in providing a good education for all children whatever their financial position.

Independent school numbers have risen, not fallen, during the recession. Our results and university entry have never been better. Our contribution to the nation’s sport can be measured by the number of our former pupils in the current England rugby and cricket teams. 40 per cent of our parents did not themselves go to independent schools.

Lord Lucas may have the feeling that our numbers will fall over the next 50 years, but then that was the assumption back in the 1960s, reinforced by the abolition of the direct grant on which so many independent schools depended in the 1970s. The fact that our numbers actually grew suggests he might be wrong to write us off too quickly.