Independents come in from the cold

29th April 2011 at 01:00
A word from the TESS editor

This is a momentous week in Scotland. Never mind the royal wedding (p38), the SQA exams start on Tuesday and the Scottish elections are on Thursday: the launch of a bright new future for some youngsters and the demise of a fading political career for some veterans.

Among the top performers in the exams every year are the independent schools which are the subject of this week's News Focus (p12). To their critics, these are havens for the privileged few who can afford to pay for smaller classes, superior sports facilities and a wealth of music and arts - and they draw academic pupils away from the surrounding comprehensives. To their supporters, they are among the most successful schools academically, less prone to the vagaries of politicians, with fewer behaviour issues and a rich extra-curricular programme. The issue now is whether they should retain the charitable status they enjoy, which entitles them to tax benefits worth an estimated 4.5 million.

Since the law on charities changed in 2006, independent schools can no longer take their charitable status for granted, and many have been striving to prove their public benefit. We report on how they endeavour to support the communities around them, widen access through more means- tested bursaries and collaborate with local schools.

St Aloysius' College in Glasgow has been working with St Roch's Secondary in a partnership which has benefited both. St Al's takes St Roch's pupils into its Advanced Higher classes in return for some of its own pupils being able to study Higher English as a Second Language at St Roch's. They have also collaborated on certification of voluntary work by pupils, a residential retreat and sporting facilities.

Gone are the days when city councils washed their hands of independent school pupils, or so it would seem. With true political pragmatism, former Glasgow council leader Steven Purcell recognised that, with budgets coming under pressure, the city could benefit from what the independent sector had to offer. Glasgow's head of education, Maureen McKenna, says it's all about recognising that "the young people that go to the independent schools are still Glasgow's children at the end of the day - their parents have just chosen private education". It's a tolerant view and one that is to be welcomed in a city of divides.

Speaking of politicians, for the final week of the election campaign Scottish Labour's education spokesman, Des McNulty, and SNP education spokesman Michael Russell come head to head in our last political Qamp;A (p6- 7). Readers can look back over the past three issues of TESS and compare what all the main parties promise for education, and what they would do for teachers who feel threatened by the current cuts and review of their pay and conditions. They can then mark their ballot papers accordingly.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor.

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