Cynics might already have a collective noun for headteachers, especially perhaps for those from the independent sector. Whatever they might say or write, however, there is no denying the importance and influence of annually convening 200 of the UK’s leading private and state boarding school heads.
Coming together under one roof for two or three days is a valuable opportunity for heads to get to know each other, renew friendships (rivalries?) and exchange ideas. But this informal benefit is not the only reason why they travel from far and wide to the Boarding Schools’ Association’s yearly gathering. The real draw is the formal programme, the discussion and debate and the chance to hear from a range of top-drawer speakers.
This year’s conference is back in London, for the first time in a few years, and will be hosted at the Park Plaza Hotel in Victoria, with a gala dinner at the Imperial War Museum.
The conference, which runs from May 5-7, is being led by current BSA chair Wendy Griffiths, headmistress of Tudor Hall’s girls’ school near Banbury. Wendy’s chosen theme is ‘Challenge, Care and Confidence’ and these three Cs inform the conference programme.
From the independent schools’ side, speakers include Tony Little, outgoing headmaster of Eton, who will look at the current state of boarding and the year ahead for the BSA. Tony has agreed to become honorary president of the BSA in 2015-6, the organisation’s golden jubilee year.
Another Tony on the programme is historian-head Sir Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, who will share his thoughts on the challenges of modern boarding. Joining these heavyweight heads will be a clutch of national names to add a different perspective to proceedings. Matthew Syed, journalist, broadcaster and former Commonwealth table tennis champion, will look at the relationship between talent and mindset. Mark Haysom, the former Mirror Group CEO who published the highly rated debut novel ‘Love, Love Me Do’ last year, will discuss the challenges of leadership. And Falklands veteran Simon Weston OBE will share his highly personal story of recovery and reconciliation. Appropriately, the conference also features Edmund Walker, CEO and co-founder of Walking with the Wounded.
This year’s BSA heads’ conference comes at an interesting time for boarding schools. The conference closes on the day of the general election, the result of which boarding schools will be watching with interest. One result could see Lord Nash and his DfE colleagues drive their expansion of state boarding provision. Another could perhaps see Tristram Hunt pursuing his threat to withhold business rate relief from independent schools which don’t improve their community partnership work. Either outcome adds some spice to proceedings.
“I am delighted the conference is in election week as it drives home the importance of boarding to our elected politicians and the high-quality service we offer to over 73,000 students every year,” said Wendy Griffiths. “We have a very positive and diverse programme for this year’s conference and have no doubt it will be strongly supported by boarding heads from a broad cross-section of our 500 member schools.”
Robin Fletcher is national director of the Boarding Schools’ Association