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Academy sponsorship? Plenty of better ways to support the state sector
In the government’s recent green paper there was a familiar call
to arms; independent schools should sponsor academies. Previous advocates of this strategy include Michael Gove, Sir Anthony
Seldon and Sir Michael Wilshaw. But is this really the best way that independent schools can support the state sector, asks headmaster of Colfe’s School, London, Richard Russell.
The evidence thus far is, at best, patchy. Aside from a few notable exceptions, most initiatives have been extremely costly and have met with little success.
The scale of the challenge is
not the only reason so very
few independent schools have embraced academy sponsorship. Per pupil funding in the state sector averages about £5,000 a year and is less than a third of the average fees charged by most independent schools. Recent changes to the funding formula will hit some state schools hard. One head teacher in Bristol has warned that he may have to explore the idea of shorter school days to save money.
As a governor of four state schools in inner London, I know that many schools are running de cits and head teachers are frequently forced to choose between essentials: computers or textbooks, but not both. As the head of an independent school, I am spared these tough decisions and not best placed to advise state academies on how they should make such choices.
More fundamentally, there is an instinctive resistance within the independent sector to the idea that we should all be doing the same thing: local circumstances vary and independent schools have unique and individual strengths, academic and otherwise. Such is the nature of independence.
At Colfe’s our relationships with local state schools in Lewisham make a real difference.
All of the schools we work with have a high proportion of pupils who qualify for free school
meals (FSM) and most do not have a sixth form. Pupils who show academic potential attend Colfe’s regularly for academic enrichment: GCSE Latin, for example, or master classes in maths, modern languages or science. We commit real resources to these relationships. One of our teachers spends half her timetable furthering and strengthening these links.
As a result, 12 scholars from partner schools join our sixth form each year on free places which are
funded by the Leathersellers’ City Livery Company.
Winning a scholarship to Colfe’s has now become a key aspiration for many of the brightest pupils in Lewisham and Greenwich. Scholars have gone on to a range of the most competitive courses in top universities, including Oxbridge and Medicine.
Thanks to the scholarship programme, I can now say with con dence that 10 per cent of students in a typical sixth form year group at Colfe’s qualify for free school meals (FSM) – a higher proportion than most state school grammars where the average FSM  gures is below 3 per cent.
It would be wrong to regard such initiatives as exclusively charitable. Colfe’s, and other schools with similar arrangements, bene ts hugely from an annual in ux of pupils who are bright, intelligent and committed. We make no secret of the fact that entry is selective and conditional on strong performance at GCSE. Hopefully the potential to come to Colfe’s, along with the enrichment classes
we run, motivates these students to do their best at GCSE, boosting the overall exam results of our partner schools.
Neither is the bene t purely academic. The dynamic of our sixth form is greatly enhanced by the social variety that such pupils bring. As independent school
fees continue to escalate, it will become more important than ever that we should seek ways in which we can expand the social range in our schools: if our pupils are to thrive and succeed in the world
at large it is vitally important
that they should not spend their formative years in a middle or upper class vacuum.
For all these reasons, we will continue to resist the idea of academy sponsorship for the foreseeable future. In common with other independent schools, Colfe’s will make its own (independent) choices about
how best to engage with the state sector, responding to local circumstances and identifying what works best for us and those around us.
Fee reduction & boarding relocation
In a response to nationally rising school fees, Prior Park Prep School, Wiltshire, has taken the decision to reduce its fees. From September 2017 these will be reduced by as much as 15% compared to existing fees. To reinforce its strong educational focus, an additional £500,000 will also be invested at the school.
Headmaster Mark Pearce said,
‘As a School with a Catholic Christian ethos, we are committed to offering a Prior Park Prep
6 Independent Schools Magazine
education to as many families as possible and we recognise and understand the sacri ces that parents and grandparents are having to make in order to allow their children to bene t from a Prior education’.
From September 2017 boarding will also no longer be part of the Prior Park Prep educational offering and will be relocated to Prior Park College in Bath where demand is high and over one third of the pupils are boarders.
Pictured: Head of Strings Eleanor Whipple and Katie Derham
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