"The fact is private schools are part of the solution, not the problem" - a response to the Independent

Posted on: 13 May 2016
Posted by: Julie Robinson

As the Independent's economics editor opines on the perceived wrongs of independent schools, ISC asks for less cynical hostility and just a touch of balance.

The economics editor of the Independent news website, Ben Chu, has penned a wild attack comment on independent schools (11 May 2016), claiming lavish facilities built from the proceeds of tax breaks have to stop.

A full response was offered to the Independent by ISC General Secretary Julie Robinson.

The Independent declined to publish the full response, opting for a shorter letter to the editor.

The response in full:

Private schools are not self-serving 'clubs' as described in Ben Chu’s lively invective.

Most independent schools are indeed charities which receive certain tax breaks. This is a benefit which is gratefully received. However, some charitable independent schools would be perfectly willing to relinquish the problematic label of 'charity', in no small part because of the way some commentators seek to simplify a complex picture.

Through charitable status, schools have a duty to work for the public benefit. Without it, there would be fewer bursaries and there might be more of the division that Mr Chu is so keen to describe.

Bursary support is at an all-time high of £850 million - a not insignificant figure. A third of all students get fee assistance and five thousand pupils pay no fees at all. Are these pupils the kittens of Mr Chu’s "fat cats"?

Yes, people who have achieved wealth choose to send their children to private schools. These children study side-by-side with those whose parents have little financial resource. We wish for this to increase instead of unnecessarily segregating these children because of idealised, outdates and stereotyped views of our schools.

Do we really want to see the disappearance of an excellent education for those who couldn't normally afford it?

Mr Chu's world is one of division. He cites high-ranking politicians in the assumption that their successful schools must have done wrong in some way. He references the small number private schools sponsoring academies without even considering the resources needed to undertake such an exercise. He looks at the impressive facilities of private schools in a way which suggests these don't also exist in many state schools. He points to static numbers of scholarships without noticing that the money is now better targeted at means-tested support. He focuses on fee increases without considering the financial pressures schools face.

In failing to provide balance he does a great disservice to his Independent readers and colleagues, many of whom work very hard and choose to make sacrifices in other areas of life in order to buy an independent education for their children.

Independent schools are often expected to feel guilty about their success. Yet success should celebrated and shared, not vilified.

Great independent schools have freedom to innovate and specialise. They are highly aware engines of social mobility. They share resources more than duty dictates because they see themselves as part of their local communities and UK education in general. They do good things both for their fee-paying pupils and for society.

Globally, the UK's independent schools are held in the highest regard. For many decades parents from all over the world have chosen to send their children to British schools and of late, more campuses have been established overseas. What is it that those from outside the UK can see that some here cannot?

And let's not forget what schools give back to the whole of UK Plc - roughly £9.5 billion at last count, generating £3.6bn in tax revenues and saving the taxpayer £3bn.

Independent schools aren't going anywhere. Those who wish to engage rather than merely snipe from the sidelines will find tens of thousands of dedicated women and men teaching and working in our schools who strive for exactly the same thing as those in the state sector - a quality education and opportunity for all children in the UK. We have ideas and resources ready to share.

We know we'll never convince everyone. But the fact is private schools are part of the solution, not the problem.

We would love to demonstrate this to Ben Chu, if he would like to visit one of our schools. Perhaps a small rural prep school just a short walk from the council sports facilities it hires would be of interest.