The English Baccalaureate’s focus on five GCSEs can hamper state schools’ ability to offer a broader curriculum that includes music and arts, the Girls' Schools Association president will say today.
The private-school leader will draw attention to the Department for Education's English Baccalaureate league table measure in a speech at her association's conference in Bristol, defending her own sector from the threat of more tax.
"We have an independent sector plugging the gaps in EYFS by subsidising the 15 or 30 ‘free hours’ which the government provides," Sue Hincks, headmistress of Bolton School Girls’ Division, will say.
"Thereafter, we offer a choice to parents who want their children to have a broader curriculum than the EBacc allows – a curriculum where the arts and creative subjects, as well as religious studies, are given their proper value.
"We provide a choice for those parents who worry that their child would be ‘lost’ in a big comprehensive school. This is an independent sector where initiatives come from teachers and heads of department, not from government departments."
She explained that independent schools have greater freedom to adapt their curriculum, pointing to teacher appraisal systems and Ofsted as other elements that narrow the ability of state schools’ heads to decide on their curriculum.
Does EBacc restrict learning?
Ms Hincks told Tes: “Obviously maths, English and science are very important. I am delighted there is a language in the EBacc, but where is the push to say that music is really important or that the arts is really important?
“And yet these are fundamental areas where children can thrive and blossom and be very useful for their career after school. And I really think the EBacc should encourage the study of those subjects.
“I work very closely with state schools' colleagues and I absolutely think that independent schools and state schools have a brilliant symbiotic relationship.”
Her speech today will highlight the role of girls’ schools and of the independent sector in providing a choice for parents and acting as a vehicle for social change, and will praise its reputation at home and abroad.
She will also criticise the Labour party’s pledge to introduce VAT on school fees.
“It defies belief that a major political party would put at risk all of this good work by charging VAT on school fees, with a dubious claim that this would raise significant funds for other purposes," Ms Hincks will say. "In fact, introducing VAT on school fees will cost, not save, the state money, and increase the burden on the taxpayer."
Responding to these remarks, Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said:
“The simple question for the Tories and supporters of an elitist education system is why they think it’s right for a local state school to pay taxes that the wealthiest private schools don’t.
“This government has broken its promise to rethink the tax loopholes that benefit the privileged few but a Labour government will not. We will put an end to subsidies for the super rich at the expense of everybody else.
“By making them pay their fair share, a Labour government will invest in the life chances of all children.”