We are not elitist, says public school leader

12th January 2001 at 00:00
New chairman of body representing exclusive schools insists it has many 'ordinary' members. Alison Brace reports

GIVEN that Chris Brown now chairs the body representing the country's most exclusive schools, he is keen to play down his own establishment's grandness.

He likes to emphasise the community role of the former direct-grant Norwich School. At the heart of Cathedral Close since 1551, it educates choristers for the city's cathedral.

"The kind of school I live and work in is not necessarily the public's perception of what independent schools are like," he says. "It is more like an independent grammar rather than a public school."

It is this theme which Mr Brown, 56, wants to stress during his year at the helm of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference, which is made up of 241 independent boys' and co-ed schools in the UK.

His own father was a head of a primary school, and he was educated at a Cornish grammar and then at Plymouth College - then a direct-grant school.

After reading English at Cambridge University, he stayed in the city to teach at the Leys school. He then went to Pangbourne College, Berkshire, following that up with 11 years at Radley College in Oxfordshire, where he was head of English and director of studies.

"While I have taught in a range of independent schools, when I applied for a headship I wanted to move back into a school with a broad social range and which is enmeshed in the local community," says Mr Brown, a former chairman of the Choir Schools' Association.

He found that opportunity at Norwich School when he took over as head in 1984. "I am keen to try to make those outside the independent sector aware of schools like this," he says.

"They might have heard of some schools because they are household names, but most HMC schools are good schools in their local area and nothousehold names.

"We have got more 'ordinary schools' that are much more like many of the maintained schools that the public may know.

"Independent schools of this kind are part of the national resource and not some kind of fenced-off area."

Mr Brown believes there is greater fluidity between the state and private sectors these days, citing the case of his own daughters, both now at university. One attended a private sixth-form college, the other a state one.

It is a message which the Independent Schools Council also hoped to emphasise this week with its publication of 10 principles (see below), which it believes should be accepted as the basis for all future discussions with governments about relations between the education sectors.

The ISC, which represents 1,300 independent schools in the UK, commended the current Government's drive to develop closer co-operation between the state and private sectors.

The 780-pupil Norwich School, which takes boys from seven to 18, and girls in the sixth-form, has run two such schemes. Last summer, pupils from Bignold middle school and Hillside Avenue school in Norwich worked with professional musicians, creating new music using themes from Faure's Requiem.

Music is strong at the school, where fees range from pound;5,691 to pound;5,919 a year. Only 20 boys sing in the Cathedral choir, but 340 out of the 780 pupils are learning a musical instrument, including 10 a year who learn to play the organ.

But for all Mr Brown's efforts to depict his school as an ordinary one, it does have one or two of those quaint public-school touches, not often found in your local comprehensive.

For instance, daily assemblies for the senior school are held in the cathedral. The school also commemorates Trafalgar Day on October 21, in honour of one its most famous former pupils - Lord Nelson.

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