The government has stepped up its plans for more independent schools to support state schools, including by setting up a unit to monitor and broker partnerships.
There had been speculation that the independent sector would face less pressure to help state schools following last summer’s election result.
But, speaking at an Independent Schools Council (ISC) event in Westminster this morning, education secretary Justine Greening said: "There is more that we could do. There are more independent schools that can become involved in partnerships working with the state sector.
“We need to make sure that we are measuring the impact of this work and that we truly understand what works and how we get the best value from the resources going forward.” She also acknowledged the partnership work that had already taken place.
A Department for Education document released today says a new "System Partnership Unit" will work closely with independent schools to develop their activities and broker partnerships with state schools.
It adds that the DfE would like to see bursary programmes "targeted more towards children from ordinary working families and disadvantaged backgrounds".
The unit will also develop the evidence base of what works and put in place a "robust evaluation framework".
The DfE’s Green Paper last year and the Conservative election manifesto said that independent schools could face losing tax breaks that come with charitable status if they did not cooperate.
The consultation paper, entitled Schools That Work for Everyone, proposed that "independent schools with the capacity and capability" should sponsor an academy or set up a new free school – or offer a proportion of places as fully funded bursaries to those unable to pay fees.
The Tory manifesto said at least 100 leading independent schools would be expected to become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools in the state system.
'No money in the bank'
Speaking today, Barnaby Lenon, chair of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), said there were only a small number of large independent schools and “an even smaller number that have any money.”
He said: “I was headmaster of Harrow – a well-known school – but what people never knew was that we had no money in the bank. And in some years our budgets did little more than break even.
“It’s a mistake to think that we can transform the world. But we are keen to do as much as we can.”
Mr Lenon said they had been “in and out of Number 10” and the DfE frequently over the past year.
But he added: “Partnerships work less well when the only motivation has got something to do with charitable status or acting under a perceived pressure from the government.”
Change needed 'at scale'
Ms Greening did not mention scrapping schools’ charitable status this morning – but it was clear that she expected all independent schools to still contribute something to the state sector.
The education secretary recognised not all schools would be able to sponsor an academy, but she said they could instead help in a different way – such as with governance, curriculum or teacher training.
Ms Greening said: “Independent schools have something to offer in all of these areas and across the board. We want to see a strategic and growing and developing relationship between the independent school sector and the broader education system.”
She added that the partnership work was “critical” in order to improve social mobility in the UK.
Ms Greening said: “The DfE will play a key role in enabling this work to happen, but we are relying on all of you day to day with your creativity, ingenuity, innovation, partnership and the will to make this work to really make a change on the ground and at scale.”
Speaking to the press after the education secretary’s speech, Mr Lenon said: “I wouldn’t say anyone is feeling like now we are off the hook.”
But he added: “The atmosphere now is of firm encouragement and it comes from both sides.”