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'Lessons from life in a private school... including some you might even agree with'


Louise Wright, who has recently moved from the state sector to teach at an independent school in the south of England, writes:
Michael Gove loves his privates – interpret that as you will – but I've been thinking that there are a few independent sector practices I really wouldn't mind us adopting in state schools. Of course, in "Goveland" – that wonderful world one enters by falling through a rabbit-hole – what we are supposed to learn from our independent colleagues is Latin and Greek; then Oxbridge for all. I would suggest that there are some other tricks we are currently missing from the Wonderland of private schools.
1. All SLT need a pocket-watch
Forget an iPhone or a walkie-talkie, the white rabbit's watch is the essential tool for school managers – essential for measuring what their staff have time to do. Independent schools don't demand lengthy lesson plans written on a new format every time the leadership changes its mind about what the primary focus of teaching and learning should be this term. They free up their staff's time for marking and making resources. (Also note – it's the furry bloke in the waistcoat who runs around looking harassed, not his staff.)
2. Free drugs are an entry requirement
Alice finds her body-altering chemicals neatly labelled "Eat me" and "Drink me" – and completely free. She can't get in and out of Wonderland without the drugs provided and I'm sure many of us struggle to open our classroom doors without the first (of many) coffees of the day. Schools run on drugs: what staff-room isn't awash with caffeine? In the independent sector, that heady rush is often provided free of charge, providing enhanced stimulation for teachers and – by extension – their pupils. In my book, paying for your own coffee is like buying your own chalk.
3. You can't play croquet with a flamingo
Remember when Alice tried to play croquet with a flamingo? And every time she aimed for the ball it lifted up its head and refused to hit the target? Do I need to elaborate on the equipment letting you down when you're under pressure to deliver? Dodgy whiteboards, missing Promethean pens, a blanket school ban on photocopying because a) the budget's been overspent or b) someone on SLT is doing a change-management project on the paperless school or just the cupboard-is-bare moment when the natural wastage of biros means you have to do your marking with an eyeliner pencil; it happens a lot less often in the private sector. And when you do have to buy the equipment to do your own job? You claim it back on expenses. Independent schools recognise that if you want the results, you have to provide the tools.
The real lesson of Wonderland, then? Independent schools know that staff need time, respect and the resources to do their jobs. I must be dreaming as I find myself agreeing with politicians: state schools really should be more like the independent sector.
Louise Wright is a pseudonym



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