Small classes explain lure of defection to private sector

10th October 2008 at 01:00
State and independent teachers cite highs and lows of working in private sector

More than half of state school teachers would defect to the private sector on account of the smaller class sizes and superior facilities, a TES survey has found.

Almost nine out of 10 state school teachers named smaller classes as the top attraction in swapping to an independent school, according to a poll of 2,400 staff.

Freedom from government interference and better behaved children also ranked high on their list of attractions to the independent sector.

But difficult parents were highlighted as the number one drawback of private schools. Around six out of 10 state school teachers identified "demanding parents" as a problem, with around half criticising the independent sector for failing to take enough children from poorer homes.

Half of state school teachers, who accounted for 1,000 of the 2,400 polled, also believed privately educated children failed to gain a broad understanding of society.

One respondent said: "I attended an independent school as a child. The education system is the finest in the UK. However, the students are selected on the basis of wealth and are thus very privileged. I enjoy making a difference to students who do not have these privileges."

Figures released by the Independent Schools Council earlier this year showed a growing trend among state school teachers to migrate to the independent sector.

Independent schools made a net gain of more than 1,500 staff last year, figures showed.

But the majority of private school staff said they would work in a state school. Of almost 1,400 independent teachers, 59 per cent said they would switch to a state school, 30 per cent said they would not, and 11 per cent said they were undecided.

Private school staff expressed concerns that they would lose the ability to respond to the needs of individual pupils. "In an independent school we have so much more creative freedom, and so much less irrelevant target- setting, that it is hard to imagine going back to state," said one respondent.

"Is it anything like those school shows on TV like Grange Hill?" asked another independent schoolteacher. "It would indeed be challenging to teach children who may or may not want to learn."

Six in 10 private school teachers said well-behaved children were a benefit of working in their sector. But more than one in four said pupil behaviour was deteriorating. "Behaviour is never quite as good as some like to make out," one teacher said. "This is in part due to schools being afraid to deal properly with some behaviour issues because they fear certain parents' reactions." From a list of six potential negative points, almost two out of three staff expressed frustrations about demanding parents.

More than half also complained of long working hours. In an extreme example, an assistant housemistress at Malvern College in Worcestershire won a pound;12,000 out-of-court settlement last year after she was contracted to work more than 121 hours a week for just over pound;15,000 a year.

In the week that the Charity Commission named the first schools to be assessed under public benefit tests (see opposite page), teachers called for more independent school places to be made available for children from poor homes and more partnerships between state and private schools.

NOT THE SOFT OPTION THAT MANY IMAGINE

Teachers working in independent schools are expected to do long hours outside their contracts, a leading private school head warned this week.

Working in the independent sector should not be considered an easy option for state school teachers who have become disenchanted with poor behaviour and large class sizes, said Diana Watkins, the head of Leaden Hall School in Salisbury, Wiltshire, and the chair of the Independent Association of Prep Schools.

Mrs Watkins, who worked in the state sector for 11 years before moving into independent schools 23 years ago, said that she regularly works a 13- hour day and that teachers are expected to take an active role in pastoral care and after-school clubs.

"Teachers are encouraged to show their expertise and interests in a wide- range of activities," said Mrs Watkins.

"Some think that going to independent schools will be a softer option because of small classes, but that's not the case.

"In the state sector the demands in the classroom are perhaps more intensive. But in the independent sector you know you are part of a business and that you have a role to play to make it successful.

"The benefit is you see children in different aspects of their lives. The ethos of independent schools is that you work the hours to inspire the children."

Mrs Watkins urged staff to work in both state and private schools in a bid to break down stereotypical ideas about the two sectors.

POSITIVE POINTS OF INDEPENDENCE*

Class size: 89.7%

Brighter children: 13%

More motivated children: 45.8%

NEGATIVE POINTS OF INDEPENDENCE*

Demanding parents: 63.8%

Long hours: 52.9%

Low pay: 28.7%.

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