Q&A: Rudi Eliott Lockhart

The chief executive officer of the Independent Schools Association (ISA) says he’s looking forward to less Zoom and more time visiting school heads

What has your experience been like so far at the ISA?

Starting during a pandemic has been a very strange experience! I hadn’t expected to be working from home and thought I’d be spending more time actually visiting heads in their schools. I am looking forward to the day when I’m not doing everything through Zoom.

But these strange times have helped to make clear the sort of impact that ISA can have, and it’s been really fulfilling to ensure we can keep giving strong support to all of our members so they can carry on being fantastic heads.

What will you be focusing on in your role?

I’m keen to bust some of the stereotypes about independent schools. ISA’s membership is incredibly varied and doesn’t reflect what a lot of people might assume independent schools are. There are performing arts schools, SEN schools, bilingual schools and schools with all sorts of different approaches to the curriculum.

There is a wide range of different fees with lots of lower-cost schools. What brings them all together is that independence from the state lets them respond in their different ways directly to the needs of pupils and then lets them be held to account by the parents paying the fees.

What was it about the ISA that made you take the job?

It was a huge privilege to be offered the job. ISA is the fastest-growing association in the independent sector, and it’s got some of the most dynamic and innovative heads in membership. Who wouldn’t want to take on such an exciting role?

What was your favourite subject at school?

I’ve always loved history and am working on a part-time doctorate on aspects of independent schools in the 1960s and ’70s (in theory – it’s a bit hard to find the time these days).

I ought to give a shout out to religious education too, as learning about religious and non-religious worldviews can be brilliant, and I spent five years trying to reframe the subject while chief executive at the Religious Education Council.

What are you currently reading?

Left Out by Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire. It’s a startling bit of journalism looking at the inside story of Jeremy Corbyn’s time as Labour leader.

What issue in education are you most passionate about?

I always want to talk about the breadth of what education is. Preparing young people for jobs is great, but I want education to help them to live fulfilling lives, to be critical thinkers, to be life-long learners and to be a positive part of society.

Keeping an eye on the breadth can be hard when there’s such pressure to prepare for the workplace or to deliver on a narrow set of exam grades, but it’s so important.

If you weren’t in the education sector, what would you do instead?

I’d be bereft! I couldn’t ask my wife for any tips as she’s a teacher and has always worked in education too. I hope I might find work elsewhere in the third sector, but it wouldn’t be the same.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing independent schools currently?

Well, the obvious answer is Covid and all that it has meant for schools. But there’s the challenge of how we react as we put the current crisis behind us. I hope we don’t simply revert to how things used to be.

We’ve got a chance across education to rethink how we do things and grabbing that opportunity is a challenge that really matters. These are interesting times for education.

Rudi Eliott Lockhart spent five years as chief executive of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, and was previously deputy general secretary and head of research at the Independent Schools Council.

Read our previous Q&A with Donna Stevens from the GSA

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