Page 21 - Independent Schools Magazine
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  What will 2018 have in store for the independent schools sector?
Head of Alderley Edge School for Girls, Cheshire, Helen Jeys, re ects on the fears and challenges ahead...
media. Those of our parents who sacri ce holidays and have more than one job so that their children can have the opportunities they may well not have had is a far cry from the views presented by Gove about the average student at one of our schools. Furthermore, the view presented of state schools
is, equally, one of stereotype
and assumption. There are many outstanding state schools which
are not inhabited – as some would have us think – with students
who will only succeed with the advantages that can be provided
by the independent sector. As a graduate of the state system myself, I can certainly attest to that!
And as well as the media reports, the independent system is experiencing the same issues in education as all schools nationally. The new examination speci cations at GCSE and A level, the change to the numerical system and concerns about equivalence in terms of grading, worries about coursework changes and so on make 2018 another challenging year in education.
All of this has a huge impact on us in the independent sector but, possibly my greatest concern for this next year is the impact of all of this on staff wellbeing. There is – and indeed there should
be – ongoing concern about the wellbeing of our students. We are all very much aware of the problems our students face in a world of social media, sexual harassment and employment pressures. However, what we must not forget is the wellbeing of our own staff and their ability to perform at the highest level. What are we doing – in both the state and independent sector, to support our own staff?
A report in September 2017,
based on research commissioned
by the charity Education Support Partnership, indicated that 75%
of teaching staff in schools and colleges experience symptoms stemming from their work. Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are among the conditions
 So, as we move into 2018, I wonder whether the bad press that has appeared to dog the independent sector will continue. I also wonder whether this press will continue to mirror a series of basic assumptions and false stereotypes. Certainly, the arguments used by many politicians against the sector would not befuddle an A level student studying the Fallacy of Composition! I fear, nevertheless, that the power these arguments have in the media will cause us ongoing damage.
The fears for the future of our sector are obvious. Headlines relating to the Barclay Review and the SNP’s decision to charge Scotland’s independent schools business rates, not only causes concerns that the same will happen across the country, but many commentators report that the sum gained by such a venture will, ironically, place an increased  nancial burden on the state sector. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge,
in his last manifesto, to charge VAT on private school fees to fund free school meals for primary school children causes those of us who lead small schools, in particular, anxiety for future  nancial stability if the government changes. And, of course, Corbyn’s views are shared. Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP also commented:
“Is it fair that these tax advantages are available to public schools, though further education colleges and public sixth-form colleges have to pay VAT on their purchases?
Yet these latter institutions really
do provide a ladder of opportunity to those students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds...
How much better would it be if it were Conservatives who counter- intuitively got rid of charitable status rather than leaving it to the left to claim the moral high ground?”
Then, there were concerns caused by the Conservative manifesto
about the opening of new grammar schools, the reported requirement for independent schools to sponsor academies, forge partnerships or offer extra bursaries and Brexit! And there was Michael Gove who - as reported in the TES in February 2017 - continued to be surprised that educating “children of plutocrats and oligarchs” is still regarded as “a charitable activity,” commenting that VAT exemption is “egregious state support to
the already wealthy”. Although May’s plans – as reported in the Conservative Manifesto - appear to have been dropped for now,
I can’t help but agree with a
Head, reported in a Times article
in October, that we need to call
an end to the “hostilities” shown towards private schools. In a tidal wave of hostility towards the independent sector and demands seemingly made on how we should lead our schools, I can’t help but agree with Mike Buchanan who recently reminded politicians that “independent and state schools cannot make our relationships work with a gun pointing at our heads.” Far more pragmatically,
he called for “open-hearted collaboration and a  exible approach” so that “great things can happen.” ‘Hear, Hear’ from me!
I do think that much of this anti- independent school rhetoric is based on an outdated, fallacious view of independent schools that
is so damaging to our reputation. As all of us will agree, the work
we currently undertake with local state schools helps and supports many in our communities. The offering of bursaries, increasing year on year, and the huge sacri ces made by many of our parents to enable their children to attend our schools is a picture that is perhaps far less attractive to aspects of the
cited and the risk of suicide among primary and nursery school teachers was 42% higher than patterns in the broader population of England during the period of 2011-2015, according to data released by the Of ce of National Statistics. This is something we must not ignore and, frustratingly, many of the causes of this stress appear to be largely out of the control of senior leaders... therein lies the rub.
So, doom and gloom for 2018. Well, there’s no denying that we are facing huge challenges as a sector. However, there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel. We know
the brilliant work we are doing in our schools, with our students and with those in our communities.
The only thing that we can do is
to continue to be dogged in our determination to publicise what
we do in an effort to balance the message as well as provide ways
of supporting, pro-actively, our staff in continuing their superb work. Perhaps we can do both, in one way, by reminding ourselves that 88% of ISC schools are in mutually bene cial partnerships with state schools and thousands upon thousands of students have enhanced educational experiences as a result. However, we need to persevere with the grit that we talk so often to our students about,
so that perceptions can change. After all, as Confucius said, “he who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” All the best for 2018!
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