Charlie Rigby, founder of the Challenger Trust, a government-backed organisation providing learning outside the classroom, writes:
Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, said recently that private schools should be stripped of their charitable status for failing to sponsor academies and struggling state schools in poor areas. Through my personal experience of the private education system and my current work to provide academies with cost effective extra-curricular programs, I couldn’t agree with him more.
In my opinion, many private schools excel at wasting huge sums of money, failing their poorer neighbours in the process. In contrast, I’ve noticed that state schools are adept at spending small sums particularly well. We need the private and public sector to work together to provide a happy medium, a well-rounded education for all British children.
They say that “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton” because the renowned, comprehensive private education offered at Eton was said to be the source of British leadership, character, and competitiveness which prevailed at the battle of Waterloo. These are skills that can’t always be learned inside the classroom, and I firmly believe it boils down to access to resources such as sports fields, music, art and initiatives like a combined cadet force which produce tomorrow’s leaders.
When academies and state schools don’t have funding or resources available, it should be a moral obligation for schools in a very privileged position to share their facilities – after all, the charitable status of independent schools saves them thousands of pounds each year on tax breaks. The very nature of a “charity” is to provide for those in need, and private schools that fail to do this must be stripped of their charitable status.
The importance of access to facilities and learning outside the classroom initiatives goes far deeper than just helping students develop a broad range of vital skills. Ofsted recently released a report: Below the Radar: Low-level Disruption in the Country's Classrooms, based on the inspection reports of a sample of 95 state schools and academies inspected this year.
The watchdog says some pupils could be losing up to an hour of learning each day (38 days a year) through disruptive behaviour in the classroom. This type of behaviour has a detrimental impact on the life chances of too many pupils – but independent schools don’t seem to be affected by this and we need to ask ourselves why.
Disruptive behaviour can easily be reduced through a greater emphasis on sports and extracurricular activities, which very often increase concentration levels through the release of adrenaline and endorphins, as well as giving the students space to burn off their energy in a practical and educational way.
Participation in performing arts allows students to express themselves and have a voice, so when they come back into the classroom they’re engaged and ready to learn. Schemes like cadet forces, scouts and guides can add structure and routine to a young person’s life while encouraging teamwork, leadership and a sense of achievement. Perhaps most importantly, these activities create resilient young people, more readily equipped to deal with failure and bounce back from setbacks in the future.
These opportunities already exist for some students – just not for those at struggling state schools and academies. This is why no privileged private school should be allowed to retain their charity status and tax breaks unless they share their resources with less advantaged institutions.
Head teachers of private schools should strive to create a legacy of a fairer, more equal education system for all students.
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