A great article on independent schools appeared in last week’s Times newspaper. Written by the thoughtful and insightful Greg Hurst, Education Editor of the Times, it posed the question ‘Just how good are independent schools?’ and proceeded to look at the evidence. The article quite rightly acknowledged that independent schools come in many shapes and sizes, and that independence does not of itself necessarily equate to excellence – a lesson that proponents of state-funded academies need to remember. (I write, of course, from the perspective as the Head of an independent school which has repeatedly been accredited by external inspections as ‘excellent’ and ‘outstanding’.) He also pointed out that independent fee-paying schools have more funds at their disposals, and that greater funds can mean more investment in teachers.
None of this proves superiority, of course, in the whole independent schools’ sector, but Mr Hurst went on to make the point that if parents are prepared to pay for the education at their children’s independent schools, this is the greatest testament to their excellence: ‘here’s the telling point: parents are willing to pay for what private schools offer. Fees vary but last year the average was £11,208 and £25,152 a year for boarding. These are big sums to fund from taxed income, hard-earned savings or investments. They must be doing something right.
And he is of course correct. Parents who are paying for their children’s education other than through the tax system (which can, incidentally, be a bone of contention for parents who pay for independent education and so are effectively paying twice) are very discriminating about where they invest their funds. Why would they pay for a substandard education? Their desire for excellence is what independent schools are responding to, and this coincides with – and enhances – the quest for excellence which originates within the schools themselves, from motivated educators who really care about the future of the young people who pass through their doors.
Parents want the best for their children, and when they choose a school for which they will have to pay, they are going to make sure that they are choosing the very best. From a personal perspective, I know that my school is outstanding, and I know that if it weren’t, the parents of my pupils would soon tell me. I want to know from them, if not directly from the pupils themselves, if something is not right, so I can fix it – and fix it fast. Parent power in education means that we are all working together to ensure the very, very best opportunities for the children in our care. It works.