Private schools' leader quits in wake of members' mutiny

8th July 2011 at 01:00
ISC chief loses out in power struggle after elite heads threaten to go it alone

The chief executive of the body representing 1,260 independent schools has resigned after losing a power struggle with some of Britain's leading headteachers.

David Lyscom stood down from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) last week following months of wrangling over the umbrella group's future role and a mutiny by its most powerful members.

The chairman, Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas, and the rest of the board have also quit in recent months amid the worst turmoil in the organisation's 37-year history.

Some heads demanded a radical overhaul of the ISC, claiming it had grown bloated, cost too much and had lost its focus on defending the interests of the independent sector. There were also fears of a hidden agenda to widen membership to include academies and free schools from the state sector.

Earlier this year the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), an elite group of headteachers from 250 independents including Eton College and Westminster School, voted to leave the ISC from the end of August.

This put huge pressure on the ISC board as 40 per cent of its #163;1.4 million annual subscription revenue comes from HMC member schools. The split would also have seriously undermined the group's authority as the voice of the independent sector.

As Mr Lyscom stood down last week, the HMC voted to rejoin the ISC after "critical" negotiations with the interim board.

HMC secretary Geoff Lucas said the group was "only prepared to re-engage" if the other seven member associations agreed to a "slimmed down and refocused" organisation with fewer layers of management.

Mr Lucas said: "There has been a lot of discussion across the associations to arrive at a package that we are all happy to agree to and move forward on. We're now feeling as optimistic about the future as HMC has for the last 10 years."

The mutiny came as the ISC was busy taking on the Charity Commission at the High Court over tax breaks for schools and lobbying the Government over proposed visa restrictions that would cost private schools millions of pounds in fees from overseas pupils.

Dr Bernard Trafford, head of Newcastle's Royal Grammar School and a former chairman of the HMC, said most heads applauded that kind of work but many felt there had been "mission drift".

He told The TES: "It's very easy for organisations to feel they have to justify their existence by providing more and more services that members don't necessarily want.

"If the centre gets too big it almost can't help controlling the member associations and it shouldn't. It's about getting that balance right. It (leaving the ISC) was no empty gesture. It was about getting control back. The pressure was for something slimmer and less expensive.

"It was felt very strongly that it should be the heads' associations that have control. As I understand it, we've got what we want."

The ISC was not available to comment.


To the rescue

Ex-diplomat David Lyscom was seen as a safe pair of hands when he became chief executive of the Independent Schools Council three years ago.

He succeeded Chris Parry, a former rear admiral who lasted less than seven weeks in the job after describing some state-school pupils as "unteachable" and their parents as "ignorant".

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