Philip Britton, head of Bolton School, Boys’ Division, writes:
When we hear politicians assert that independent schools are not connected to the wider community and need to step up and get involved, the argument simply makes no sense – not just to us at the school, but to our whole local area.
Bolton School, in keeping with most of the independent schools in the northern towns and cities, has its roots very firmly embedded in the community. It is both connected and involved.
Most people nearby know the school and respect it for being part of Bolton life. Many have connections with the school, either now or in the past. As a business, it is one of the town's more significant medium-size enterprises and employs mostly local people.
The school frequently connects with the local council and other educational institutions nearby. We are invited to civic occasions and we invite the town back in turn. The success of Bolton and the surrounding region is important for our own success and we have an active part to play in that.
We also seek to lead in terms of academic aspiration. Our sixth-formers have helped to tutor on a summer course for Year 10 pupils run by the University of Bolton, and we have mentors reading with Year 8 students at a local senior school. For the past five years, in partnership with the Institute of Physics and the Ogden Trust, we have employed a physics teacher who spends three days a week out in a dozen secondary schools working with teaching colleagues.
Connecting with primary schools is equally important for us. Within a mile of Bolton School, there are 10 primary schools with above-average free school meals ratios. Through the charity Shine, we run a Saturday morning school for 12 weeks a year, raising the aspirations of 40 local Year 5 pupils. Last year we linked up with a primary cluster of schools to work on a level 6 maths project, with two of our teachers tutoring. It worked – the results improved. This year we are delighted to have received an independent/state school partnerships grant to carry that work on with even more partners.
We are also deeply involved in promoting sport. Our football coach spends two days a week out in primary schools. We are an MMC Foundation cricket hub and an Independent Schools Football Association Focus School for girls’ football. Our outdoor learning expertise has also been usefully shared. Most recently and innovatively, we have been using our expertise and contacts to help primary schools use their sports premium to purchase high-quality provision from a range of partners.
With all this activity, you can imagine how ridiculous the claim that independent schools should start to play fixtures against local schools sounded to us. We do that, of course, and they are some of our more vigorous encounters. But such a token thought misses the mark of our deep engagement by a good margin.
Academic aspiration and sport are just two examples. Every one of our sixth-formers does at least 20 hours of community action, much respected and appreciated by a whole range of local charities who need hands-on help. And we do all this as an inclusive school community.
One in five senior school pupils has a bursary; one in 12 in the school as a whole has a full bursary, funded through enormously generous charitable giving by a wide group of former pupils. The typical sentiment expressed by an Old Boy or Girl is that the school has done so much for them in their lives that they must give a chance to the next generation. This is the real engine of social mobility and the chance to multiply the impact of education into the future.
So as we strive to reset the attitude to independent schools – and the Independent Schools Council manifesto, released last month, is seeking to do just that – there are some key messages for politicians.
Think locally, not nationally; think about strategic partnership, not one-off initiatives; and, above all, notice that so much of what is desired is already happening.