In a speech today Sir Michael Wilshaw has accused independent schools of offering students in the maintained sector “crumbs off their tables”. He went on to call on independents to support their local schools and dispel the perception that they “do not care about the educational world beyond their cloisters and quads”. He attacked his audience, the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference, for their perceived attitudes to education in maintained schools – inner city school leaders “haven’t got the time to worry whether their children are climbing trees proficiently”.
Keen followers of this blog and my Twitter feed (both of you) will no doubt be expecting me (a proud Hackney boy) to be jumping up and down screaming “go on, Sir Michael, give it to those toffee-nosed, charity-fiddling independent school snobs!”.
Well, sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not.
If the decision were mine alone then I would make it illegal to charge for education completely, thus removing private schools in their present form.
Lets deal with the charity thing first.
Agreed, its a strange definition of charity that says “I’ll make a charitable donation as long as you only spend it on me”. But it is important to maintain a sense of proportion. The charitable tax break is worth about £100 million to the private system (less if you listen to the private schools themselves) whereas the cost of bringing the students currently at private school into the maintained system (assuming they were funded on the same per student basis as current students) would be around £3.1 billion (in current spending, not to mention the capital spend that may be necessary to accommodate the students). I’m not sure that anyone (apart from me) is suggesting that this would be a good way to spend that amount of cash. So the charity thing is a bit of a red herring. It’s there. Yes, it smells a bit, but it ain’t going away. Deal with it.
Now, it is true that many maintained schools do benefit from relationships with the private sector. Good for them that do. And good for the independent schools that do it. More should do it because I believe it is of benefit to both parties in the transaction.
But here’s the point. It’s not their job. They do not, despite Sir Michaels protestations, have a responsibility or obligation to do this.
Education is the responsibility of the state. Not the monolithic “STATE”. But the state that you and I as parents subscribe to though our votes and our taxes. We want the state to be responsible for education and have imposed on them the obligation to do so. Any attempt by a section of the state to pass on that obligation to a charity is not what I want. Its not what I voted for. Its not why I give over my taxes or my permission to govern.
We are a society. We join together to do things. We elect leaders and we impose on them obligations to govern. To collect taxes and spend them wisely on our behalf. The most precious obligation we impose on the state is the education of our children. And I expect responsibility for that to stay where I put it, not to be off-loaded on the nearest charity.
So, Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference. Carry on educating the young people that parents have put into your care. By and large you do a brilliant job of it. Provide support for (and seek it from) others where it is beneficial to both parties. But you should (rightly) concentrate on the day job.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, concentrate on your job, regulating, inspecting and improving maintained schools. And stop trying to pass the buck on to others.