Independent schools urge swap with state
Britain's independent schools this week held out an olive branch to the state system by suggesting that neighbouring state and private schools might barter for what each school could offer the other.
The Independent Schools Joint Committee, which represents more than 1,000 independent schools, issued a policy statement saying it "would like emphasis to be on dialogue and co-operation between the two sectors". The sort of co-operation it envisages would be on a school to school basis.
Speaking at a press conference in London to mark the publication of the document, Dr John Rae, headmaster of Westminster School, said that the ISJC did not favour grand schemes worked out at national level. Nor did they think it desirable to enter into complicated financial engagements. It would be better for individual schools to agree on mutually beneficial swaps. An independent school might, for instance, offer sixth-form teaching of a rare subject to state school pupils in return for use of their swimming pool or music rooms.
The document sets out the right of independent schools not only to exist, but also to flourish. The case is agreed on grounds of liberty, equality, the right of parents, the needs of children and the ability of independent schools to pioneer new developments, for which, they claim, they have an excellent record.
The chairman of the ISJC, Lord Belstead, said that it was pertinent, in the context of present education debate, to look at some of the virtues of the public schools. These include their small size, their firm stance on religious education, the autonomy of heads and governing bodies, their boarding facilities, their provision of single sex education, the diversity of their academic arrangements and their striving for excellence. At a time of economic restraint, it was also appropriate to see how duplication could be avoided and how existing resources might be shared.
The document points out that the independent and direct grant schools are responsible for the education of about 20 per cent of the country's sixth-form pupils. Many of them have a wide variety of subjects to offer, including rare ones. Sixth-form teaching would therefore make a good starting point for more co-operation.