A summary of Voice’s response to the Department for Education’s consultation Schools that Work for Everyone.
Article written for January 2017 Your Voice.
‘What contribution could the biggest and most successful independent schools make to the state school system?’
To varying degrees, all independent schools make positive contributions:
- every child taking up a place at a fee-paying school saves the Government about £5,000 per year… lessening the public tax bill by up to £4 billion per year;
- independent schools contribute around £270 million of VAT annually, out-weighing the estimated £100 million saved by such schools in tax concessions; and
- many independent schools provide free or subsidised access to playing fields and other facilities.
Nevertheless, private schools are far better funded than state schools, enabling them to run smaller classes and offer a wider variety of extra-curricular activities. It is very difficult for these relatively exclusive advantages to be replicated in the state sector.
‘How can the academic expertise of universities be brought to bear on our schools system…?’
There are already many ways in which universities are supporting schools, including offering holiday courses, sharing resources and encouraging pupils to apply to university.
Whilst there are already some models of good practice (for example, university technical colleges) not all universities have the capacity to sponsor schools and it would distract from their mission.
‘How should we best support existing grammars to expand?’
We have reservations about supporting this as a unilateral objective. All successful schools should be allowed to expand, regardless of category, although careful planning and monitoring would need to be in place to ensure that increased scale does not result in the loss of quintessential features upon which the success of particular schools might depend.
Sensitivity to turbulence and damage to other schools in the local area also needs to be considered, as creaming off the brightest pupils is likely to impoverish other schools in the locality, rendering them vulnerable to low aspiration, low expectations and low morale. In such cases, expanding successful (grammar) schools may work against the principle of building ‘schools that work for everyone’.
‘What can we do to support the creation of either wholly or partially new selective schools?’
We would urge the utmost caution in attempting to pursue this objective. It has the potential to cause chaos within the ecology of local education systems.
We believe that striking the right balance between offering opportunities for those who show high ability and offering appropriate support to those who need it can be achieved within the current system, whether by the use of differentiation, personalised learning, additional support, streaming, setting or bilateral provision.
We would rather allow for options to remain open rather than closing them off at the age of 11.
‘How can we best ensure that new and expanding selective schools and existing non-selective schools becoming selective are located in the areas that need good school places the most?’
The current demographic growth will require many more school places to be made available over the coming years. Focusing on selection, which may benefit a minority of pupils at the cost of damaging the quality of education and life chances of the majority, is an irrelevant distraction.
Inclusion and community cohesion should be at the heart of the admissions system.
Read Voice’s response in full: www.voicetheunion.org.uk/swe.