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Sweet 16?

The year ahead will see change and consolidation in the independent sector. Editor Stephanie Broad talks to IE Today's experts

Posted by Stephanie Broad | December 16, 2015 | Teaching

The year 2015 brought the first majority Conservative government in nearly 20 years, and with it an Old Etonian prime minister, putting private school policy even further under the spotlight. What can we expect from the independent sector in 2016? We asked our regular contributors and expert commentators for their predictions, finding that collaboration with businesses and other schools is an important growth area, while continuing to provide quality education and social opportunities remain key priorities.

Paul Norton, principal of Kings Monkton School, says: “The main issues facing independent schools as we move forward are common themes we face on a cyclical basis. How do we manage to maintain our role with increasing prices and overheads and without pricing ourselves out of the market? Where do we steer our school in the chaotic waters of government examination reviews and examination changes? How do we compete with the central movement to supersize comprehensive schools and the facilities they offer?”

Despite these challenges, Paul says continuity and resourcefulness are the answer: “We steer a steady ship, keep changes to a minimum and don’t try to compete, but offer something unique which will never be replicated elsewhere. Within the independent sector we are fortunate to be able to structure our curriculum to the needs of our children, ensuring they get what is best for them and their needs – and this rarely changes as it has to be excellent literacy, numeracy and scientific skills. By working in partnerships with private business I manage to keep my costs to a minimum whilst offering the best facilities and opportunities for our children. As I look forward, I do so with confidence in the knowledge that we are unique, special and affordable.”

“Partnership is surely the key to the stability we all crave after such a changeful 2015” - Alun Jones

The Girls’ Schools Association’s watchword for 2016 will be ‘partnership’. Alun Jones, president of the GSA, says: “Partnership is surely the key to the stability we all crave after such a changeful 2015. I’d like to see Ofqual working closely with examination boards, schools and their representative bodies to create targets and parameters for successful examination marking. We won’t see effective improvement until we all agree what an acceptable exam marking system looks like and we have the tools to measure its implementation. I’d also like to see closer partnership between schools and government over legislative change, so that the thoughtless timing and volume of change we saw in 2015 is not repeated.”

There will be a global focus for the GSA in 2016, too. Alun continues: “GSA schools will continue to be involved in inspirational teaching and learning partnerships, on both a school-by-school basis as well as a global platform. I’m particularly excited that the GSA is joining together with their US, Australian, South African and European counterparts, plus other key institutions, to stage the first Global Forum on Girls’ Education in New York next February. The forum will bring together leading educators, researchers, advocates, authors, practitioners and related-industry leaders from across the globe to exchange best practices and innovative approaches to continue to educate and equip girls for a complex and changing world.”

The Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) will mark their golden jubilee in 2016 and celebrate it throughout the year with a number of key events led by Tony Little, honorary president of the BSA and former head of Eton College. Robin Fletcher, national director of the BSA, says: “Tony’s aim for the year is to increase the number of independent and state school partnerships. Alongside this, the BSA will continue to develop its training and development programme as the sector continues to strengthen and be more robust in its child protection and safeguarding protocols. 

“On 20 June 2016 the BSA will launch National Boarding Week, during which there will be many exciting events taking place, including Big Boarding Sing, the biggest boarding choir made up of member schools, and the Boarding Bake Off final.” 

The sector has a good reason to celebrate, says Robin: “The UK is the world leader in boarding education, with around 500 boarding schools, over 75,000 students and representatives from more than 50 countries. UK boarding dates back more than 700 years, but the newest boarding school was built as recently as 2013.

“Boarding offers a wide range of benefits, including strong pastoral care, excellent learning and teaching and first-class facilities. There are also extensive activities outside the classroom and the chance for students to forge lifetime friendships.”

Chris King, chair of HMC and headmaster of Leicester Grammar School, thinks schools will be doing more to provide life skills, opportunities and financial support. He says: “‘Looking forward’” was the theme of HMC’s recent annual conference, chosen to mark both the association’s growth and optimism and our recognition of the seismic educational, societal and technological changes to come.

"The independent sector, not least HMC schools, greets 2016 in fine shape, with excellent results and the highest numbers of pupils, partnerships and fee assistance in history. But we are not complacent and will not stand still. We plan to use this strength, along with our independence from government, to ensure our pupils acquire the flexibility, problem solving and new skill sets they will increasingly need in the 21st century.

"More immediately, HMC has also identified key areas where we believe we can work publicly and privately throughout 2016 to the benefit of all pupils. These include improvements to: exam setting, marking and grading; pastoral care provision; transition from school to university and participation in and safety of sport. As the new linear A-level and GCSE courses roll out, it will be increasingly important that pupils are taught and cared for in a way which fits them not only for exams but for life. And who knows? By demonstrating our public benefit perhaps we can start to defeat ‘Toffism’ along the way.”

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