Page 20 - Independent Schools Magazine
P. 20

Born:
1961
Schools and University Attended: King’s College, London
First job:
Operating theatre orderly and crash trolley driver
First management job:
RGS, Guildford i/c lockers!
First job in education:
Royal Grammar School, Guildford, 1984
Appointed to current job:
2005
Favourite piece of music:
Most stuff by Faure, Mahler and George Michael – all dead
Favourite food:
Pain au raisin and/or curry
Favourite drink:
Secret family recipe for champagne cocktail
Favourite holiday destination: Sydney
Favourite leisure pastime:
Hammock reading in the sunshine
Favourite TV or radio programme/series: House of Cards, Moral Maze
Pro le In conversation with Mike Buchanan
Q In your address to the last HMC Annual Conference you referred to the widely-
held but misguided impression that independent schools are ‘out of touch, their pupils wear top hats and their parents are all Russian oligarchs’. Given that someone as prominent as former education Secretary Michael Gove headed one of his recent newspaper columns with the words ‘Put VAT on school fees and soak the
rich’, there is clearly some way to go before it
is generally accepted that the great majority of parents make considerable sacri ces to provide their children with an independent education, and that independent schools offer substantial support to those on lower incomes. How can individual heads best reinforce the HMC’s efforts to get the message across?
A Firstly, we should remember that Michael Gove was being mischievous
and, having bene tted from a great independent education himself, somewhat
disingenuous. HMC schools are in fact highly varied; a taxi driver would be easier to spot than an oligarch at most parents’ evenings. Large numbers of families have both parents working and the average independent day school fee is £13,500
a year - hard to manage for many but certainly not just the domain of the super-rich. Well over a million pounds a day is spent on fee assistance , with schools deciding whether to concentrate on full bursaries for fewer pupils or smaller amounts of help for more pupils to establish a full social mix. National journalists are generally disinterested in telling their readers about this so it’s important that schools really market these opportunities to their prospective parents and  nd new ways of identifying pupils from different backgrounds who would adapt well to their school environment.
Q There has been much comment on the threat that independent schools
could lose their charitable status if
they don’t ‘do more’ to support the state sector. You have described this as a ‘nuclear option’ which no-one wants. Leaving aside the well- rehearsed arguments against the threat. Is it actually possible to remove charitable status? Much  nancial support has been provided to the sector by benefactors who have chosen to support schools on the basis that they are and will remain charities.
A Schools which are charities (including nearly all our members) are
independent, sovereign organisations accountable to the Charity Commission, not the government of the day. The charity’s trustees
have a legal duty to ensure its activities ful l
its individual and speci c charitable objectives. Centuries of case law regulates charities, including independent schools, and to unravel this would
be hugely time-consuming, complex, expensive and unlikely to work. In 2011, after a legal challenge, it was concluded that education is indeed a charitable activity as de ned in law, and trustees are the only body which can accurately and reasonably de ne what a particular school’s charitable objectives, including to the wider community, should look like.
What the government could do is to remove
some of the  nancial bene ts which accrue to all charities such as business rates relief. This would be ill-advised and counter-productive, For some charitable schools, it would mean they could no longer afford to carry out some of the community activities they currently do voluntarily, in addition to their charitable objectives and not for any  nancial bene t. A clever move by government would be to embrace independent schools as an essential part of the educational mix. In other words, to forget about who delivers education and concentrate on to whom it is delivered, at what standard and cost. This happens successfully in other parts of the world where independent and state schools are equally valued partners. What might happen if Regional Schools Commissioners were able to commission new school places in Qacademies, free and independent schools?
You have helped establish a free School and two state-funded academies. What has this experience taught you about
the way forward for maintained schools, especially in the light of Prime Minister Theresa May’s enthusiasm for more grammar schools?
A
What I would say is that HMC supports the drive for more good school places and argues strongly that independent schools could and should be part of this mix. Serendipity means that I am well-placed to understand the pros and cons of how a mixed, private and state funded economy can work as
not only have I helped to set up academies and free schools but my own school, Ashford School, is
Nice try but I’m not going to get into the grammar school debate; that is for the state maintained sector to decide.
20 Independent Schools Magazine
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