Fee-paying and state schools 'should link and learn'

20th June 2008 at 01:00
Pairing with the other sector is a 'fantastic opportunity' to overcome misunderstandings, says head
Pairing with the other sector is a 'fantastic opportunity' to overcome misunderstandings, says head

Every state school in England should have a private school headteacher on its governing body and vice versa, according to an influential independent head.

Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College, is creating such a link with Kingsford Community School in Beckton, east London. He has written to Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, recommending the approach be adopted by pairs of independent and state schools nationwide.

"This is a fantastic opportunity," said Mr Cairns. "It gives me the chance to work with someone from a very different environment, who made me realise that I know very little about some state schools. There is a lot of misunderstanding about what goes on in the other sector, which we need to overcome."

His comments come a week after the departure of Chris Parry as chief executive of the Independent Schools Council (see panel). Mr Parry, who was only in post for six weeks, had said there was a "cold war" divide between private and state schools and attacked public benefit tests, which will encourage partnerships between the sectors.

Mr Cairns said Mr Parry's comments had undermined some of the good work bringing the state and independent sectors together.

"Many of us are trying very hard to form links, and they are important to us," he said. "What Chris Parry said made colleagues in state schools question how genuine we were being in our dealings with them. He got it horribly wrong."

Brighton College has boarding fees of more than pound;24,000 a year and is a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, while Kingsford Community School is in a deprived part of London, with high levels of pupil mobility. Well over half of Kingsford's pupils speak English as an additional language and significant numbers are from asylum-seeker families. Last year, three of its pupils were stabbed to death.

But Ofsted has praised Kingsford for providing a "harmonious community". In March, inspectors said: "It is a safe haven where pupils feel supported and well cared for, and able to thrive and enjoy school."

The two schools have already established a close working relationship, with a scholarship scheme. Starting last September, three students a year are being funded to do A-levels at Brighton College.

Jo Deslandes, its head, and Mr Cairns realised they could work together when they met on a trip to China for schools that teach Mandarin. Ms Deslandes said: "If I thought only one side had something to learn from the other, I wouldn't have done it. But the opposite is true."

Fleeting stay of former Rear Admiral

"I've sat down with Afghan tribesmen and Balkan warlords. I think I'll be all right with a few headteachers." So said Chris Parry (right) when The TES interviewed him last month about his new role as chief executive of the Independent Schools Council (ISC).

Yet, while Mr Parry survived years in the Royal Navy, rising to become Rear Admiral, he lasted only six weeks with the private school heads.

The ISC said his departure was by mutual consent and that he had left to take up other opportunities. But his unguarded attacks on the quality of state education had left many heads deeply concerned. He was quoted as criticising the unteachable children and "ignorant" parents afflicting some state schools, though he later said this had been taken out of context.

A meeting at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference last week agreed unanimously that Mr Parry was unsuited to the job, which only confirmed views already circulating in the upper echelons of the ISC.

Nigel Richardson, head of the Perse School in Cambridge, said: "There is no doubt that a large number of heads were very unhappy about some of the comments he made. A number of state schools are labouring under very difficult environments with less funding than we've got."

Matthew Burgess, the ISC general counsel, has taken over as acting chief executive while the organisation works out its next move. Mr Burgess, a Fulbright Fellow with a Cambridge law degree, is highly regarded for his work on public benefit tests. - David Marley.

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