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Schools minister 'shocked' at hostile attitude towards private schools

A former venture capitalist-turned-government minister has told of his “shock” at the negative attitudes some teachers hold towards private schools.

The views of some state-school staff  were “quite hostile” towards the independent sector, Lord Nash (pictured) told a conference.

“In many poor-performing state schools there is still a challenge to break down these divisive attitudes,” the minister said.

The boarding school-educated minister spoke as he praised partnerships between state and private schools, which he said had succeeded in breaking down the “formidable” barriers between the sectors.

The peer, who founded the charitable academy sponsor Future Academies, told the Independent State School Partnerships Forum conference in London: “I came to education from the venture capital industry. My venture capital group did own a number of private schools and I was a governor of a charity myself. 

“So I was a bit shocked when I joined the state sector as an academy sponsor to find that the views of some in the teaching profession towards the independent sector were quite hostile.”

He said that much progress had been made forging links, highlighting numerous projects, but that there was still much to be done.

"The benefits are clear. Broader horizons, bigger aspirations and better opportunities for both staff and students in all schools. Expertise, facilities and extra-curricular opportunities pooled. Barriers eroded as pupils from different backgrounds mix and gain fresh, more tolerant perspectives of their place and that of others in the world,” he said.

He praised the London Academy of Excellence, a private school-backed free school in Newham, east London, which has gained six Oxbridge offers this year.

His comments come after schools chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw launched a withering attack on independent schools last October, saying their existing partnerships with state schools amounted to “crumbs off the table” and “thin stuff.”

Sir Michael's outburst came hot on the heels of his earlier speech last summer, where he incensed private school leaders by saying that they were “marooned on an island of privilege.”

Lord Nash took a friendlier tone, stressing that while some schools will sponsor whole academies, others may prefer a less onerous commitment.

He said: “Various messages have come out about the desire for independent schools to come out and do more with the state sector – some of which have been seen as quite threatening.

“My position is the government should be working with the independent sector to engage with the state sector in any way that works."

He said he was “keen to see more” private schools sponsor academies but the “huge contributions” of partnerships could not be underestimated.

“More than 90 per cent of Independent Schools Council members have some kind of partnership arrangement with local state schools – partnerships that are flourishing across the country,” he said.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which represents teachers in both private and state schools, responded to Lord Nash's comments, saying : "Once you get teachers from the different sectors meeting and talking about their work, you find there is much more that unites them than divides them."

She added that teachers in both sectors were all subject to different pressures and there was also significant movement of staff between private and state schools.

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