In Defence of Independent Schools

Published, The Scotsman, 12 November 2013

Sir John Major’s assertion that “it is ‘truly shocking’ that the private-school educated and affluent middle class still run Britain”, certainly resonates with me. I completely understand why there is a frustration at the surprising iniquity between the low numbers who actually attend independent schools and the high percentage of government ministers who have been independently educated.

Clearly, as the headmaster of an independent school, I endorse the aims and aspirations of the independent sector as a whole, but this value has not emanated from some politicised, elitist view of educational privilege. I wish all schools were independent, free from the shackles of local authority intervention and free from the political will of Governments that often have very little understanding of how educational establishments actually work. Even worse is that many politicians fail to understand what schools are actually for and fail to grasp what we, as professional teachers, want for our pupils: a balanced education that creates people of worth and value.

The Independent Sector tends to do well in the data-free environ which concentrates on building character and developing skills because essentially we are free from political promulgations. We can pick and choose what we wish to implement or discard. This leads to a common sense approach that has, at its very heart, the pupils’ best interests.

Scotland has a general mistrust of independent schools because they are often seen as seats of elitism or privilege but that is a caricature of the reality. In my own school, over a quarter of the pupils receive financial assistance which means that I have pupils from all social and economic backgrounds. Our schools should, in my view, reflect the society in which they operate. Independent schools are certainly reaching out to a wider audience and that is to be welcomed.

Just as I favour independence for Scotland, I also favour independence within education. I have worked in both sectors and I have been educated in both sectors and in terms of the quality of teaching there is no tangible difference. What is different is that the management and leadership of an independent school is not bound by the political will of the day or by the stranglehold of a bureaucratic system that believes EVERYTHING has to be written down in triplicate. We are in charge of our destiny and what we want, more than anything else, is success for our pupils.