End 'hostilities' against independent schools, urges HMC chair

There must be a less 'aggressive' approach to developing partnerships between state schools and independents, says Leicester Grammar head

Eleanor Busby

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Hostilities against independent schools must end to ensure time is not wasted on “needless battles”, a leading headteacher will say today.

Chris King, head of Leicester Grammar and the new chair of HMC, will call for a “less aggressive approach” to state school and independent school partnerships at the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) in Belfast.

His comments follow threats, contained in the DfE’s Green Paper last year and the Conservative election manifesto, that independent schools could lose the tax breaks that come with charitable status unless they work with state schools.

Last month, the government stepped up its plans for more independent schools to support state schools by setting up a unit to monitor and broker partnerships. However, scrapping schools’ charitable status was not mentioned by education secretary Justine Greening at the time.

In a speech to some of the country’s most prestigious independent school headteachers, Mr King will say today: “To help young people cope, we need to move on from sterile arguments about types of school and league tables to a much more important conversation about how to teach and how to learn in the 21st century.

“We stand ready to contribute even more – but can only do so with a willingness to engage from all involved. This is not, therefore, the time to descend into dogma and division. Instead let’s allow the needs of pupils, not politics to drive educational reform.

“I am asking for a cessation of hostilities against independent schools, so we can all stop wasting time on needless battles and instead work together to improve standards and raise aspiration.”

His inaugural speech as chair will also call for an alliance of school leaders across both the state and independent sector, saying that “a more collaborative, less aggressive approach is urgently needed.”

He will say: “It is urgent for state and independent schools to work together to put pupils, not politics, at the heart of education policy.

“The time for state versus independent education is gone, to be replaced perhaps by state education with renewed independence of spirit and independent education with a renewed sense of responsibility to society.”

Mr King will argue that Britain needs its independent schools more than ever post-Brexit as their global brand overseas is growing.

He will say that independents schools are experiencing “an unparalleled period of international expansion” and that critics should “think carefully” about what that means.

Mr King will add: “Again, our critics should think carefully about what this means. Britain, at a time of severe post-Brexit uncertainty, is experiencing growing trade in international education. To which independent schools – in no small part HMC schools – contribute well over £600 million every year.

“At the same time, our overseas campuses are providing a pipeline of over 8,000 international students to UK colleges and universities. And this happens because independent schools are free to make long-term strategic plans that our colleagues in the state sector can only dream of.”

It is "endlessly ironic" he will say, that UK independent education "should be so sneered at in its country of origin" despite being "one of the most valued and enduring global brands".

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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