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 Is the biggest threat to independent schools becoming a social pariah?
Head of Dean Close School, Glos., Bradley Salisbury, reflects on the public perception of independent schools and what can be done to counteract inaccuracies. In so doing he throws out some challenges to the sector...
“I’m sorry for the way I treated you” were the first words spoken
to me earlier this year by a
former colleague I bumped into. We had worked together at my
first teaching post in a large, comprehensive school near Bristol and hadn’t seen each other for nearly 20 years. The event that caused such a reaction was my decision to accept a job in an independent, fee-paying school. Before I applied for the post I
knew that it would be socially unacceptable to a number of those I worked alongside at the time. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
In this year’s sector report from Baines Cutler, the danger of independent schools becoming social pariahs was highlighted as
a significant threat. Confessing that your son or daughter goes to a private school may not be the sort of thing one will admit to at dinner parties, on social media or in conversations in primary school play grounds. Are we in danger of joining the ranks of drink driving, single use plastic bags, non-free range eggs and dolphin unfriendly tuna? Our experience of the last few years tells us that complaining to news outlets about the unfair way in which private schools are stereotyped does little to change
what may be a growing perception that we are simply seeking to serve a hyper-wealthy elite with a luxury brand of education.
With many state schools facing significant funding challenges we need to take care with our own decisions. Listening to my fellow Heads talking at recent conferences, it would appear that there are very few of us who are sitting with
long waiting lists of full fee paying pupils and financial surpluses well over 10%, but this picture is at odds with the luxurious product that our marketing material often conveys. Bespoke, tailored and state of the art are the buzz words that we love to be associated with. Last year I was struck by a visiting 1st XI hockey team arriving to
play a match with four supporting members of staff – two coaches, a fitness coach to help with the warm ups and a pitch side physio. Too much? Are we a little grotesque at times? How attractive are we not only to those with the means to attend one of our schools, but also to those who can’t?
On the bookshelves in my study,
I have a photograph of President Bartlett from the television drama, The West Wing. One of the lines given to him by the writer Aaron
Sorkin is to describe education as a silver bullet. It is the means by which many of society’s challenges can be resolved. How far do we
go in our schools to highlight the impact that our pupils are having on society? What impact their education is having on societies across the world? Could we talk
as much about the numbers of our alumni who are now serving communities in hospitals, police stations, schools, community centres and charities as those
who secured a place at a top university? Could we market the habit of volunteering that was first caught in the community action
projects of the 6th form? Of those involved in coaching junior sports teams, leading youth orchestras or running charity events as a result of lessons learned in the co-curricular programme at school?
I wonder what difference it might make if we were to equip our parents and stake holders with stories of the positive impact that an independent education can have on society. Our schools were founded to enhance society in many and various ways, we could do more to help others to see it
as a potential silver bullet that benefits the many and not just the few. It is something to be proud of.
    Bringing generations together
Since January the children in Kindergarten (Reception class) of The Ursuline Preparatory School, Essex, have been making regular visits to a local care home.
During these visits the children have sat and read with the residents, shared stories and talked about their day. Kindergarten and the residents have thoroughly enjoyed this experience and have both taken away lovely memories of the times that they have spent together.
The children also welcomed their friends from the home to their school for a tea party and sat in the school gardens to listen to a story read out by one of the residents.
Independent Schools Magazine 5

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