Claims that private schools are becoming exclusive institutions and reluctant to welcome academies are being dismissed by Manchester Grammar School’s high master.
Former schools minister Lord Andrew Adonis slammed private educators for not involving themselves in the government’s academy programme and sticking to old-fashioned beliefs.
Lord Adonis called upon independent schools to ‘engage’ with the state – but Dr Christopher Ray, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) and high master of the Manchester Grammar School, retaliated to the allegations.
“There is no ‘Berlin Wall’ as Lord Adonis puts it,” he told PA. “Independent schools are involved in constructive partnerships with state-maintained schools previously acknowledged by the Prime Minister as being immensely important.
“Many independent schools are sceptical about the current preferred sponsorship of academies – remembering that during 15 years governments of the day have changed direction several times concerning what they believe the independent sector should do to support their specific political aims for education.
“HMC understands the frustration that this and previous governments must feel that their own approaches to correcting the problems inherent in the state system have not been entirely successful and are sympathetic to calls for our continuing assistance.”
Dr Ray said it is entirely a matter for each school to determine precisely how it should maximise its own benefit to the public through local partnerships, the provision of means-tested bursaries or the sharing of expertise and facilities.
Lord Adonis claimed it is unacceptable for public schools to continue separating themselves from state education and they must reconsider their ‘charitable values’.
“To those in the private school world who are reluctant to embrace academies, I appeal to their professionalism and their charitable missions,” Lord Adonis said.
“It was excusable to stand apart from state-funded education when the State did not want them engaged in the first place. But that is the isolationist politics of the past.
“With the academies programme, supported across the political spectrum, they have an opportunity to engage in state-funded education without compromising their independence, renewing for the 21st century their essential moral and charitable purposes.”
Academy schools are semi-independent and are capable of setting their own curriculum and staff pay – Education Secretary Michael Gove is encouraging many schools across the country to begin applying for academy status.
Matthew Burgess, general secretary of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), said: “Lord Adonis draws attention to our sector’s longevity and, in so doing, demonstrates why many are right to be wary of government-sponsored, totemic policies – particularly when they are painted as moral duties.
“The courts recognised last year, in upholding our judicial review of the Charity Commission, that there is no ‘one size fits all’ model of charitable engagement.
“The diversity of the sector simply means that there can be no single moral compass pointing unwaveringly in the direction of the Government’s academy programme. Instead, there is a rich variety of ways in which schools live up to their responsibility to reach out and serve those who do not pay fees.
“In 2011/12, ISC schools supported almost 40,000 children on means-tested bursaries with an annual value of £284 million; and over 1,000 ISC schools were working in partnership with state schools and their local communities.”