A “yes” vote in the Scottish referendum could result in a boom in recruitment for independent schools in northern England, a leading headmaster has predicted.
Professional parents relocating south, coupled with talented teachers reluctant to work north of the border, could work to the benefit of English schools, said Andrew Fleck, headmaster of the historic Sedbergh School in North Yorkshire.
As the referendum vote nears on Thursday, Mr Fleck said: “The demographic of parents who send their children to schools like ours is pretty consistently in the “no” campaign corner, with a variety of economic and other arguments.
“What we are also seeing … is a reduction in the number of teachers applying for jobs in independent schools in Scotland and you put these things together, it won’t happen quickly, but there’s a likelihood that Scottish schools will come under stress.
“From our point of view we can see that the disturbance that’s going on in Scotland will lead people to question education [there].”
Mr Fleck said that "outward-looking" people would "think twice" about sending their children to school in Scotland because of the strength of anti-Westminster feeling in the country.
"I can see families who might otherwise have educated their children in Scotland, within basically the English system, moving south of the border,” he said.
Mr Fleck said Scottish heads had already reported a reduction in the number of teachers from England applying to work in their schools because of the uncertainties the country faced. “The talent pool is reduced” he said.
Sedbergh school already has many traditional links to Scotland, and the latest edition of the Good Schools Guide says its pupil body is already increasingly drawn from there.
Mr Fleck, who is chair of the elite Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference league of schools in the North East, said parents might choose an English education because the Scottish government was already putting private schools in Scotland “under considerable pressure” by bringing their charitable status into question.
There was “a general antipathy” towards the country's private schools from the Scottish government, he claimed, which might only get worse under independence.
Mr Fleck’s comments come after figures from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) annual census showed that schools in many parts of northern England are still in the grips of a downturn. According to the ISC, pupil numbers were down 1 per cent in the north of England in 2014, while in London they were up by the same amount.
Mr Fleck’s claims were backed up recently in the Scottish edition of TES by Dorothy MacGinty, who was recently appointed as the incoming head of Kilgraston School in Perthshire, Scotland’s only independent girls' boarding school.
On the issue of independence, she warned: “I think it would have less of an impact on Kilgraston, but Edinburgh has so many private schools, I think that if a number of big businesses did leave Scotland, Edinburgh schools would be quite [badly] affected.”
But John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said he was “confident” that no matter the outcome of the referendum its members would “be able to provide parents with the choice, diversity and excellence of education that has been the hallmark of Scottish independent education for many years, irrespective of political and economic ebbs and flows."
Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, which covers private schools in Scotland and England, said: “Scotland already has a different education system and it would be no more different if they achieved independence. Quite a lot of Scottish independent schools already offer A level and GCSEs, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t continue.”
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