Book on private schools’ challenges ‘constructively critical’

Driven by the ambition to dispel the unbalanced narrative in the media, two independent school heads have launched a book looking honestly at the challenges the sector faces

Two independent school heads have launched a book that looks at the ten biggest challenges today for private schools.

David James, deputy head at Bryanston School, and Jane Lunnon, head of Wimbledon High School, have both worked in independent schools for over 20 years.

Their book, The State of Independence: Key Challenges Facing Private Schools Today, brings together over 50 leading educationalists from around the world.

They hope to bring balance to the view of independent schools, which they say has become “increasingly politicised” in the media.

James told Independent Education Today: “Jane and I decided to put the book together about a year ago. There were various reasons for doing so, but fundamentally we felt that the press around independent schools was unbalanced and becoming increasingly politicised. Nobody, apart from various associations such as the ISC, HMC, GSA and GDST, seemed willing to stand up for the sector and point out the good our schools do every day.

“But what we didn’t want was a critical encomium or a whitewash. We know that there are challenges ahead and we approached contributors who we knew would be constructively critical of independent schools. We wanted to include those voices, and learn from them, and to spark a debate which we felt would benefit everyone involved in schools today.”

What we didn’t want was a critical encomium or a whitewash. We know that there are challenges ahead and we approached contributors who we knew would be constructively critical of independent schools

Each chapter focuses on a different challenge, although James highlights the financial challenge as most pressing.

He said: “The proposed changes to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme have frightening implications to many schools, and there are some prep schools, and rural small senior schools, that will struggle with absorbing these higher costs. If teachers leave the profession, or take early retirement, and schools struggle to recruit because they have withdrawn from the TPS, then it’s difficult to see how that advantages anyone.”

James said gender and diversity challenges will grow in importance, with questions about whether staff are trained to cope with children who want to transition, and how we need to recruit more staff from BAME backgrounds, needing to be addressed.

Other topics discussed include pastoral, academic, junior, access, innovation, international and political challenges.

James said: “Both of us have worked in private schools throughout our teaching careers, but the essays were genuinely surprising and challenging, and put forward solutions that we found really interesting and useful. It will be impossible for schools to address many of the issues they are currently faced with without learning from others. It would, for example, be inconceivable to consider opening a school overseas without seeking advice from those who have already done so and made a success of it.

“In these tough and turbulent times, it is also worth reading this book to remind all of us who work in independent schools why we do so. Reading David Ejim-McCubbin’s astonishing journey from a disadvantaged background in London to Rugby School, and on to professional success, is inspiring.

“That returns us to the first question. Every day our schools achieve miracles, and yet the prevailing narrative never refers to this. We wanted to do something to redress that, and also to find ways that our astonishing schools can adapt and change for the future, so that they continue to be world class.”

A launch party for The State of Independence: Key Challenges Facing Private Schools Today will be held at the Girls’ Day School Trust in London on 25 April. More than 100 people are expected to attend, and Sir Anthony Seldon will give a speech.

David James
Jane Lunnon

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