Headmaster's blog at Newcastle School for Boys
Insult to injury
The Labour Party’s policy to abolish private schools has little to do with improving the quality of state education. In fact, in the unlikely event that the policy is ever able to be implemented, it would be more likely to damage it.
The policy is driven by ideology and a profound misunderstanding of the independent sector. It derives from a campaign called ‘Abolish Eton’ which belies its ideology and a mistaken presumption of homogeneity across independent schools. It assumes that they are all awash with endowment funds, Olympic swimming pools, rowing lakes and all-singing, all-dancing concert halls.
Independent schools understand and increasingly exercise their responsibilities to widen access and to contribute to social mobility. They do this in a variety of ways including through providing fees assistance and working in partnership with state schools. For many independent schools, these are achieved through hard work and financial prudence – not through dipping lazily into large surpluses nor the luxury of excess capacity, as opponents imagine and suggest.
Outperforming regional and national trends, Newcastle School for Boys has seen growth in pupil numbers in recent years. There are a number of reasons for this. One of them is growing parental concern with a number of aspects of state education.
A common theme amongst parents that I speak with is that their children are being ‘lost’ in large – particularly secondary – schools and classes where there is little time or resource to meet their individual needs. Labour’s plans will only exacerbate this problem. The abolition of private schools would increase the state school population by over half a million children.
A lot of people will be very uncomfortable with the legally dubious state seizure of private school assets – many of which are owned by charitable trusts.
Independent school education is also a very successful export. There are very good reasons for this. Some families, particularly those whose children attend boarding schools, may well send them abroad to continue to receive the education they choose for their children. This will further harm the UK economy.
For my own part, brought up in a working-class home and state educated, I have taught for 26 years. I have worked hard to try to help provide opportunities for children from a variety of backgrounds; worked hard to help establish a school with values that produces young men who recognise and act on their social and moral responsibilities. Why would anybody want to dismantle that?
It will also be interesting to see the response of the teaching unions. Will they voice support for their members in independent schools or for the left-wing ideology of the Labour Party?
In recent years, a great deal of valuable of work has been undertaken between the state and private sectors. There remains a great deal that we can continue to do to learn from and to support one another. The independent and maintained sectors should continue to work together to understand and address the challenges they and their children face and to find ways to create a fairer and better educated society. Labour’s current ideology is divisive and harmful to all schools.