IF UNITY is strength, many working in the independent sector have long felt that its plethora of representative bodies - for a sector with only 7 per cent of the school population - is a source of weakness. Wouldn't it be better to have an umbrella organisation?
In fact, such an organisation exists: the Independent Schools Council. And it is moving - very cautiously, and always respectful of its member associations' fiercely-guarded independence - towards greater co-operation and unity between them. It does not want (perish the thought) to "promote direction from the centre"; simply "to ensure that the views of those in independent education are more powerfully articulated and more cohesively represented in the political arena".
That is why an ISC Unity Committee was set up last year under the joint chairmanship of the two prime movers towards unity: Tony Evans, headmaster of King's College School, Wimbledon and Margaret Rudland, headmistress of Godolphin and Latymer School, Hammersmith, who were in 1996 chairman of the HMC and president of the GSA respectively.
Progress has already been made. The ISC and the national Independent Schools Information Service have been brought together to form a united organisation that can give independent schools a stronger voice.
Unification of the two inspection systems operating within the independent sector is also underway. Currently there is one for HMC schools and one for the rest. They will become the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) by 2000.
The ISC is also drawing associations and member schools more fully into the shaping of national policy and has, for instance, launched a major teacher recruitment campaign with the support of all associations.
It is developing a common code of practice on matters like child welfare, professional etiquette and the transfer of pupils. A working party is looking at the possibility of developing a single, regular publication - initially a beefed-up ISIS Magazine - although the HMC and IAPS are likely to want to keep their own publications.
Nobody wants to see a merger of all the associations nor a costly central bureaucracy. As Patrick Tobin, HMC chairman, told The TES recently: "The HMC is an association of heads rather than schools. A great deal of the work of the associations is the support of the person - therefore small is beautiful."
* EIGHT ELEMENTS IN SEARCH OF UNITY
The 1,300 leading independent schools have eight organisations working on their behalf.
* the Girls' Schools Association:
* the Governing Bodies Association;
* the Governing Bodies of Girls' Schools Association;
* the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference;
* the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools;
* the Independent Schools Association;
* the Independent Schools Bursars' Association and;
* the Society of Headmasters and Headmistresses of Independent Schools.
All belong to the Independent Schools Council.