Facing changes, changing faces

Independent Education Today asked leading figures from the sector to reflect on the year’s developments and look forward to what lies ahead

Who’s who

John Claughton (JC) is chief master of King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and a former first-class cricketer
Angela Drew (AD) is the newly appointed headmistress of Bromley High School (GDST), a day school of 875 girls from ages 4 to 18
Robin Fletcher (RF) has been national director of the Boarding Schools’ Association since August this year, before which he worked in media and communications
Sue Freestone (SF) is principal of King’s Ely School, a coeducational independent day and boarding school with more than 950 pupils
Richard Harman (RH) has been headmaster of Uppingham School since September 2006. He is chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference
Barnaby Lenon (BL) is chairman of the Independent Schools Council and former headmaster of Harrow School
Dr John H. Newton (JH) has been headmaster of Taunton School since 2005. He is moving to Australia in January 2015 to become principal of Scotch College, Adelaide
Alice Phillips (AP) is president of the Girls’ Schools Association. She has been headmistress of St Catherine’s, Bramley since 2000 and is a governor of the Yehudi Menuhin School
Rebecca Tear (RT) has been headmistress of Badminton, the girls’ boarding school, since 2012 and was formerly deputy head of Wycombe Abbey School.

 

What have been the main trends in the independent sector you have observed over the last year?

Barnaby Lenon: The 2014 ISC census showed that the number of pupils in ISC schools has risen slightly in the past year and the number of boarders has increased, whereas the number of overseas students has fallen. Fee inflation has reduced to the lowest level in 10 years.

Richard Harman: The sector is in a strong position. In terms of attainment, the pupils coming out of independent schools continue to thrive and large numbers win places at top universities. Boarding numbers have gone up slightly. Beyond these shores, more schools are opening overseas branches. In the UK demand remains strong overall, though with wide regional variation; where the local economy is doing well, so are independent schools. Within the HMC, an exciting new development is the launch of our teacher training project, HMCTT. This builds on the outstanding work the association has done in recent years on professional development for our staff.

Alice Phillips: There has been greater awareness of the need for the associations in the sector to work together. The issues surrounding inspection this summer posed a serious threat, but by presenting a unified voice to senior government figures and civil servants we have been able to alleviate misconceptions and demonstrate that ISC schools are safe, well-run, world-class organisations where children gain an excellent, holistic education and that the Independent Schools Inspectorate – a very separate entity from the Independent Schools Council – scrutinises our schools and the service they offer parents meticulously and robustly.

Robin Fletcher: Independent education within the UK remains strong and thriving. Its unique blend of high academic quality, extensive co-curricular activities and the chance for students to develop as individuals is increasingly attractive for parents looking for their best for their children.

John Claughton: There are a number of things going on and it differs from school to school as to what matters: HMC is a very broad church and the independent sector is even broader than that. The big concern must be A level reform because of the pace of change, the lack of clarity about what the impact will be, what the universities will want etc. It really doesn’t help that the changes, although rapid, will be spread over three years so that the students will have a real muddle. And if Curriculum 2000 is anything to go by, there will be years of strife in marking and grading etc. Of course, this isn’t my problem because we do IB and only IB, a visionary position in the light of A level confusion. North of Oxford there are continuing concerns about the impact of the economy, schools’ capacity to get the right number and right quality of pupils. I think there is continued development in the ways in which independent schools are relating to the wider world, through provision of assisted places, outreach activities of many kinds, funding/sponsoring/supporting state schools. The government wants us all to do something, but I think they are accepting a number of different ways of doing so. There is no doubt that the inspection system is becoming more rigorous with regard to safeguarding and all such issues.

John Newton: The inspection process is getting worse: it focuses too much on compliance and not about improving education. The issue of public benefit has not gone away and may well feature after the next election. The economy is picking up, but life remains very tough for independent schools, particularly smaller schools and they are doing very well to keep going. There’s greater decisiveness over the new A level curriculum than we see in the state sector which is refreshing.

Sue Freestone: Growing confidence on the part of parents in the ability of independent schools to deliver high-quality, well-rounded education, and increasing self-assurance within the independent schools’ sector. These two factors go hand in hand.

Rebecca Tear: As a headmistress, I find that the day-to-day is very much kept busy with the care of my pupils and staff team, custodianship of the school and taking forward projects, either academic, pastoral or perhaps campus planning. Lifting my head to survey the educational landscape is, of course, a necessity, but often done with much relief that every political twitch in the direction of education need not be immediately attended to. For me, a significant benefit of leading an independent school is that I can observe and decide how to respond to the ever-changing national news and views on education, my aim remaining to generate the best outcomes for our pupils while upholding the school ethos and values. Reading the daily ISC news summaries gives a great sense of what is going on, what changes are afoot and what responses are being raised across the UK. Reviewing the headlines has served to highlight the enormity of the educational issues thrown into debate this year, with foci as diverse as the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War to major exam reform, or from schools’ and universities’ abilities to prepare students for the world of work to governing when families can take their holidays. One thing, however, was constant and that was the steady stream of ideas from politicians and ministers such as Gove, Hunt, Laws and Truss.

 

What’s the most positive development?

BL: It is very positive to see that the pupil numbers in ISC schools have not fallen despite a serious recession in 2008, showing the continued attractiveness of our schools.

RH: The excellent performance of our pupils, not only in terms of exam results but also with regard to their all-round skills, character development and employability. HMC has also maintained targeted pressure on Ofqual, the exams regulator, with some notable successes, such as the recent review of grading in MFL subjects at A level.

AP: At the risk of banging the same drum, it’s been gratifying to see increased collaboration and a unified voice across the sector. All the major independent school associations worked together with the ISC on the Oxford Economics research into the economic impact of the sector and the result is a powerful vindication of the positive impact independent schools have on the UK economy.

RF: Boarding numbers rose in 2014, the first growth for several years. This is clear evidence of the strength of UK boarding schools.

JC: I am not sure that there is any single development in the sector that really matters. From this school’s point of view, the most positive development is the continued increase in accessibility through fundraising for assisted places. We have raised £7m for this purpose already and we will get to £10m by 2017. That is changing this school and is pointing the way forward in the sector. I hope that the Sutton Trust’s drive in this area and its harassment of the government to find some positive response to what we are doing makes some progress.

JN: The continued emphasis on commenting about the quality that independent school education brings. Academic results keep on improving.

Angela Drew: The growing popularity in schools of the work of the renowned Stanford professor of psychology Carol Dweck on growth mindsets. It offers teachers a very practical, effective, research-based approach to motivating learners to work hard to achieve their goals and to be resilient in overcoming set-backs.

SF: At King’s Ely, we are experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of registrations and applications received, which implies a recovering economy and a willingness on the part of parents to engage with the commitment to fund their children’s education.

 

What’s the most worrying development?

BL: The increase in costs facing ISC schools is a challenge; this is mostly driven by employment costs such as pension contributions. Costs must be contained so that schools are not required to increase their fees.

RH: A) further evidence has emerged since the summer of the need for significant repair work to general confidence in our exams system and its regulation; b) lazy stereotyping by, for example, Alan Milburn’s commission (repeated by the media) has the potential to create a more hostile environment for us. What is needed, by contrast, is genuine cross-sector dialogue about how to build an excellent system for all pupils that promotes social cohesion, embracing the strengths of both state and private provision; c) poorly timed and ill-conceived ‘consultations’ on independent schools’ inspection and the funding of CCFs have caused concern and roused reaction. I wonder if there will be a summer holiday soon that does not get interrupted by the need to work on a sensible response to such numbskullery.

AP: Media coverage with a fixation on ‘school type’ is always worrying because it’s so simplistic and dangerous. You know the kind of thing – all independents are full of ‘posh toffs’ and all state schools are full of ‘thugs’. Both extremes prevent sensible engagement with the broader discussion we need to have about ‘school type’. There are grammar schools that are far more selective than the most selective of independent schools, and independent schools that are as comprehensive as those in the maintained sector. This, together with bursary funding that supports significant numbers of independent school pupils, makes a nonsense of any notion that there is only one ‘type’ of independent school. The government should be brave and tackle this point head on when drawing comparisons between schools across the whole education sector. In particular it should address how the ‘school type’ agenda tends to skew data on university admissions.

RF: The government’s continued insistence on treating boarders from overseas as potential illegal immigrants. Any reasonable, sensible person knows they are not and the current policy is demeaning and self-defeating.

JC: I expect it is A level reform, but what is more worrying is that independent schools are responding by staying put with A levels. The only alternative seems to be the previously unheard of international A levels. Why don’t they show some courage and do something different – like IB?

JN: The problems of safeguarding in boarding schools, especially prep schools, which is threatening prep school boarding recruitment. The retirement or departure of significant heads in the independent sector.

AD: I find the government’s recent interest in the inspection regime for independent schools extremely concerning. ISI (Independent Schools’ Inspectorate) reports give due emphasis to the richness of the educational experience outside the classroom and the quality and rigour of the inspection process has helped to maintain the global reputation of British independent schools. Almost the last of many cats set amongst the pigeons by Michael Gove was the threat that independent schools should be inspected by Ofsted rather than the Independent Schools’ Inspectorate (ISI) “to make sure fee-paying education is held to the highest possible standards” – a baffling comment given that Ofsted is responsible for overseeing ISI and has consistently acknowledged the excellent quality of its inspection process. A well-fought campaign by the ISI and independent schools has seen this threat recede somewhat, but ISI itself is consulting on changes in the inspection framework in January and independent schools will need to maintain their vigilance if they are to ensure their continued independence.

SF: The ever-increasing obsession with compliance, which, although an essential aspect of what we do, has the potential to overwhelm the core objective of offering a high-quality educational experience and meaningful personal development for our pupils.

 

Has your job got easier or harder?

RH: It never gets easier.

AP: The job is definitely harder. The need to be ‘ever present’ 24/7, 365/365 is a real pressure.

RF: I took over as national director of the BSA at the end of August, joining the sector after 30 years in media and communications. It’s an amazing, interesting and stimulating role which requires a lot of mental and physical energy!

JC: About the same.

JN: It has got harder because of the even greater lunacies from the UK Visa and Immigration organisation limiting our refusal rate to 10 per cent and not 20 per cent. It has got easier because it is going to be more exciting and stimulating to have a sixth form that is not totally and utterly dominated by examinations from the start.

AD: My job is much, much easier. Last year I was a deputy head; this year I’m a headmistress. Any self-respecting school head will acknowledge how much they rely on the unremitting commitment and hard work of their deputies. Being a headmistress (and acquiring a fantastically efficient PA) has freed me up to spend more time with pupils, parents, staff and all the other people who have an interest in seeing Bromley High flourish.

SF: It has changed, but it is not harder. However, time consumed dealing with the growing burden of compliance issues is time which is no longer available for us to cherish the benefits and joys of working with our pupils and seeing them achieve and develop into fine young adults.

 

Did you welcome or regret the departure of Michael Gove (and the arrival of Nicky Morgan)?

BL: Michael Gove’s reforms have generally been warmly received by those involved in independent education. By cutting back modules, coursework, January exams, early sittings and resits, by endeavouring to bring the quality of English exams up to the standards of the best in the world and by defeating grade inflation, he has done children in this country an immense favour.

RH: Michael Gove was a radical reformer who risked becoming a zealot towards the end of his time as secretary of state; he developed a tendency to upset people in the profession. Nicky Morgan is very able and seems to be a good listener. She is unlikely to make as many enemies as her predecessor, especially given the proximity of a general election. How long she will be in post remains to be seen.

AP: I welcomed Nicky Morgan’s arrival. Whilst applauding Michael Gove’s drive on standards, particularly at GCSE, I believe the agenda of change has been imposed too far too fast. A secretary of state should undertake proper consultation with expert educators across both the state and independent sectors, listen carefully and then make recommendations, seeking to carry everyone with him/her. We welcome Mrs Morgan’s voice of calm and her moderate approach as regards pace, yet her equally clear views about what the nation’s children all deserve from a good education.
RF: One of Michael Gove’s main strengths was resetting standards for UK education, ending years of what many saw as artificial grade inflation due to modular course structures and a proliferation of new areas of study. While Nicky Morgan may be winning friends for being a less divisive or perhaps softer character, she took on the job from someone who had done all the heavy lifting and should be credited for taking some tough decisions.

JC: Thankfully, I don’t have to care. Gove clearly tried to do a lot of things, but I think that his means have never matched his ends.

JN: I regret the departure of Michael Gove. I have only heard the fairly predictable positive noises from Nicky Morgan and no real vision. Michael Gove had vision and did take us to a new place in education, especially with his legacy of academies and free schools.

AD: Michael Gove was an ideologue – that gave his policies the clarity of conviction but laid him open to accusations of zealotry. Ultimately, his provocative and confrontational style made education front page news, but I have to say that I would have preferred a quieter and more collaborative approach. Certainly Nicky Morgan is on a mission to change the rhetoric. Her promise to “work with the profession” and her plea to colleagues at the Conservative Party conference to “show every school that we are on their side” are clearly attempts to soften the mood music. As Richard Harman observed at the HMC conference, the new secretary of state “is clearly under instructions to upset fewer people – at least until May”.

SF: I regretted the fact Michael Gove did not live up to his early promise. Nicky Morgan’s arrival has had little impact thus far so the jury’s still out on that one.

RT: I think that the key issue to be considered should not be the specific post holder of the role of secretary of state for education, but a review of the opportunity to depoliticize education and school matters. There is too much ebb and flow in initiatives and I believe that this lack of stability creates a distraction from the core job of educating. It is hard to refine and improve any system if the goalposts change. Equally, with alterations in systems and pressure for success, it is hard to assess through any changes in outcomes either the effectiveness of any given system or of the improvement of the students. I do hope that the significant examination and curriculum reformation that is underway in the secondary school system will be one that endures. I believe that education is such an enriching and motivating sphere to work in because it is all about looking forward and developing, but, equally, it is also about reflecting and building upon a strong foundation of what has already been learnt. Above all, I hope that we move forward into an era of educational stability, when time, money and resources are not squandered by moving the goalposts too frequently, so that everyone can focus on the joy of enthusing new generations with their subject, sparking their intellectual curiosity and having some really exciting conversations – which is why most people decided to teach in the first place! We do have the benefit of a well-regarded and rigorous education system; time spent over the coming years ensuring that the UK consolidates its current educational reforms to keep its system highly effective and highly regarded is a duty we should not neglect.

 

How have political or economic pressures affected the sector?

RH: Economically in Britain the picture is varied; London and the south east seem to be booming, while life is much tougher in the north and the south west. For a while the prospect of an independent Scotland led to great uncertainty as to the future of the sector there. The emergence of an international, mobile, wealthy middle class in growing economies overseas has supported demand for British boarding and for schools opening abroad. Politically in the UK, whilst we get a good hearing in private, very few top current politicians are keen to be seen talking to us; those with more experience and wisdom (and perhaps without such a short-term PR imperative) are much more willing to consider creative dialogue in public.

AP: They’ve certainly required us to develop a more unified voice in order to respond robustly. But again that’s no bad thing. Beyond that, this year’s annual census of ISC schools shows that the sector as a whole is thriving, despite the economic difficulties of the last few years.

RF: High-quality boarding education costs a lot of money to provide so there is always economic pressure in this area for both schools and parents. No modern government places boarding at the heart of its education strategy, of course, but it is encouraging to note that the current administration thinks boarding can help many children who may not get the opportunity to thrive at home or as normal day school pupils.

JC: The long recession has had an impact on schools north of Oxford/Cambridge. Just look at the league tables to see the dominance of London and the south east and compare that with the way the world was 30 years ago. There just aren’t that many people in the midlands/north who can afford the fees, even though the fees are much lower.

JN: Things have gone quiet before the next election. The politicians have not yet formulated an exciting set of proposals for their manifestos on education, but we look forward to those. Those who have been well prepared for the downturn are still able to innovate, draw in parents and invest. Those who have not will continue to struggle because it is the five years after the recession ends that are the hardest for independent schools.

SF: The pain of the economic issues of past years is still being felt and parents who, in the past, would have kept their children at an independent school for sixth form, choose to give themselves a break before launching into the expense of funding their offspring through university.

 

What are your views on the increasing proportion of overseas students entering the independent sector?

BL: The proportion of overseas students has not increased in the last year or so. Many schools welcome overseas students because they are often very talented and serve to broaden pupils’ understanding of the world.

RH: This year I believe the numbers of overseas boarders dipped very slightly. Overall, international pupils add great value to their schools and the UK economy as a whole. On the other hand, some schools will need to grapple with questions of identity (what kind of a school are we?) if the balance between UK and international pupils changes very rapidly. Then again, as an example, London is a highly international city; the old definitions of ‘nationality’ are perhaps changing.

AP: Is it really such a big deal? If you offer a world-class service, you can expect to attract global clients. Brand ‘UK independent school’ should be flattered and should aspire to continue to make such an offer. Global influences can only be for good for young people. They live and will work in a global environment and will have the opportunity to influence it. World peace – so fragile as we watch it today – depends on greater global understanding.

RF: Boarding is a fantastic export to dozens of countries overseas and the presence of talented students from around the world contributes to the excellence and cultural diversity of UK boarding schools. Schools are not car companies, but one cannot imagine a UK motor manufacturer worrying too much about their models being popular around the world. It’s what they call in business a ‘nice problem’ to have!

JC: More international students reflect the regard of the world for our schools, but also the economic need of our schools to fill their beds. However, things won’t go on like this forever. The growth of overseas schools set up by UK schools will absorb some of this demand.

JN: I am discovering that other parts of the world are extremely keen on having the same exposure to overseas students as we do. We should feel blessed that so many want to come to our country to study and we should make the most of their experiences and culture to educate our own students too.

SF: As educators we extol the virtues of the global village and endeavour to inculcate in our students a sense of social responsibility for people around the world. One of the highest duties of the head of any boarding school is to enable and nurture mutual understanding and respect between young people of different races, different faiths, different colours, so that, by living together, they understand that the differences that divide hold far less power than the unifying force of shared fears and aspirations. The more students from different nations and cultures live and work together, the more the evils born of fear engendered by ignorance and prejudice are broken down. All that said, it is essential that we maintain our culture as quintessentially British because that is what those who choose to study in this country come here to understand.

RT: An increasing portion of overseas students in boarding seems to be reflective of the changes in other areas, such as university admissions and graduate recruitment and so, in essence, part of a much wider trend in society. The independent sector have certainly fuelled an interest in themselves, through their developments of satellite schools in a wide range of countries; a growing trend seems to be to attend such schools as a first step, before applying to a similar UK-based school. A number of schools have had international boarders for many years and their key to success is the maintenance of a good balance in the school community of students from a range of countries. This is vital, not only to retain the character and ethos of the school, but also to ensure that all the time and money that the student invests in travelling around the world to study is worth it from the unique and distinctive boarding life they experience.

 

What do you expect to be the key trends in the independent sector in 2015 and beyond?

RH: Much will depend on economics, but I expect the sector to remain strong in terms of numbers and all-round pupil attainment. Further thought will need to be given to widening access to our schools and to issues of social cohesion. The mantra should be to offer excellence for all rather than to handicap those who have experienced it; fundraising will increasingly move away from big new buildings towards bursaries. There needs to be dialogue with politicians and opinion-formers across the spectrum as to how to work together for the good of all. It is time to stop talking up divisions and start looking at solutions together.

AP: I think we’ll see more collaboration and more innovation where social mobility is concerned.
RF: The UK boarding family has many members, from prep schools and senior schools to girls’ schools and international colleges. That makes predicting the future something of a dangerous game. What is clear, however, is that independent boarding schools are continuing every day to improve and invest in their service to students and parents and this will be a key strength in the long term.

JC: I am not sure that I am bothered about the sector. Here, the key issue is accessibility and the school doing its civic and moral and historic purpose as the servant of the community of Birmingham. That’s what matters in the most socially and ethnically diverse independent school in this country.

JN: A rediscovery of exciting teaching, especially at sixth-form level. A continuation of the stranglehold of independent schools with the best results. The rather inane negative attitude towards the independent sector will continue, unfortunately, rather than the government seeking to make it easier for parents to come to independent schools.

AD: We will continue to see an expansion in applications from independent school sixth formers to universities in Europe and America. One of my head girls’ team, who is a premier league hockey player, has spent the autumn half-term touring those American universities, including Princeton, who have offered her sports scholarships. Our pupils, top academics and athletes with a cultural hinterland are rightly in demand at universities which judge them only on their own merit and achievements.

SF: I anticipate the emergence of three key trends. The first is an exciting opportunity: meeting the challenges of exam reform and curriculum change in a way that is not hamstrung by government diktat. The second trend is likely to be a growth in the strength of the independent schools sector and in parental confidence. And finally the outcome of the next general election will bring challenges, as yet unpredictable.

RT: Exam reform has certainly been an enduring hot topic for all in secondary education and it will undoubtedly continue to be widely commented on over the coming year too. Concerns have been raised about changes to the current system, in particular in relation to effects on university entrance. However, many independent schools have moved to iGCSEs to avoid over-testing and modularity at GCSE and indeed others have switched to follow pre-U or IB courses in the sixth form for similar reasons. These reforms at A level which will facilitate a move away from high-frequency testing should, in many ways, be welcomed. We know that students who are enthused by subjects and engaged by their teachers do not need to be rigorously tested to keep them motivated or on course. (However, the satisfaction of exam success is something well-earned and highly regarded in essentially what is a relatively robust public examination system here in the UK and that mustn’t be entirely overlooked!) However, if we look back to the years when we lamented the introduction of AS and “compulsory” lower-sixth examinations we should perhaps breathe a sigh of relief and know that our students might, once again, have the opportunity to absorb ideas and develop intellectually before having to take time out for exam preparation. However, the actual course content and the way in which it prepares students for university is, of course, absolutely vital; we now wait with bated breath to see if the new specifications will give the much-hoped-for intellectual challenge and create a suitable springboard for next steps in higher education and careers. Despite having the luxury of the option to choose from the new A levels, international A levels, pre-U or IB, inevitably the changing of the ‘home’ A level system will bring significant disruption and cost to many independent schools as new sixth-form courses are embedded and resourced. Watch this space!

 

How do you think boarding provision will fare in 2015 and beyond?

RH: Boarding has always been flexible and resilient. It will continue to adapt well to challenges, sometimes against the odds; there is no doubt, though, that social change has led to a diminished acceptance of boarding at a young age. I expect senior boarding (weekly, flexi- or full) to grow if the economy flourishes.

AP: I am very optimistic. Boarding is diversifying its offer. Parents are more mobile in the UK and abroad. Increasing numbers of parents want to pursue two careers within a family unit which means that boarding will not only appeal but be valued as a wise option for children of busy parents who nonetheless love them deeply. A boarding fee compares very well with the cost of nanny/childcare, nanny’s car, board, food, activities paid for etc. I would urge parents who are uncertain to do the maths carefully on this and be prepared to be surprised and perhaps take on the older generation who may have different views about sending children to boarding school. Times have changed and are changing.
RF: Again this is hard to predict. What is clear, however, is that providing boarding to around 68,000 students at 500 schools across the UK is a really important task. And I think schools will increasingly look beyond the delivery of great academic results to preparing pupils as fully as possible for the challenges of their future world beyond the school gates. 

JN: Outside of the south east it will struggle unless we begin to watch affordability. We will see more flexi boarding in different parts of the country and that can only be a good thing. If the boarding schools themselves are able to articulate their vision well, boarding may well begin to pick up again.

 

Do you think a change in government next year would significantly affect the sector?

RH: Not in the short term, but I imagine that in the medium to longer term there will be significant challenges for the sector whoever wins the election; hence the need to establish broad-based dialogue now.

AP: It’s hard to say. What I do know is that the independent sector is strong and successful. We have proved ourselves very adaptable over many decades now.
RF: Boarding schools generate over £1bn of UK GDP every year and are responsible for employing thousands of staff. The cost for any government in taking on the education of boarders at UK schools would be enormous, so it is highly unlikely that any change would have a dramatic effect. However, I would expect any government to continue to encourage the provision of boarding places for children who would obviously greatly benefit from the opportunity and experience, whether through supporting growth in state boarding provision or national boarding bursary schemes like the Springboard. 

JC: No political party can really be seen as being friendly to the independent sector so they won’t fund places in our schools and I don’t really see a return to the Charity Commission’s assault. It’s a shame that this ideological position will not enable there to be a return to a world where our schools were part of the state system through the direct grant scheme or government-assisted places.

JN: It never does. A Labour government will produce a lot of silly ideas which will drive a lot of people to the independent sector. The Conservative Party will continue its trend with free schools and academies and continue to attempt to make the best of education with the limited budget that they have. Until all schools have the capacity to charge fees, we will not see much greater investment or innovation in the state sector to the extent that we want to see it.

AD: Absolutely – education and politics are now inextricably linked. Whatever the outcome of the election, a government with a guaranteed five-year term ahead of them will find education a political playground. It has become far too tempting to make whatever social needs cannot be solved by politicians into the responsibility of schools: citizenship, British values, social mobility, healthy eating, financial literacy, work-related learning. In pure party terms, the most obvious area of potential impact is the possible reversal of the current government’s plans to decouple A levels should Tristram Hunt become the new secretary of state for education.

SF: I do not believe it will bring about wholesale reversal of the Gove reforms and I hope, passionately, that another generation of children will not become the political footballs of changing leadership. I fear the old chestnut of public benefit may sprout anew.

 

What’s your New Year’s resolution likely to be?

RH: To remain in the flow and not in the grip of life (and work).

AP: Stepping down from the GSA presidency and handing over to Alun Jones, to support him and to begin the next big educational projects in my own school. It has been a pleasure to serve GSA and it remains a daily pleasure to run my own school.

RF: Personally, to continue supporting my own children and step-children to develop and flourish (age range 4-21!) Professionally, to support boarding schools to continue delivering an excellent service and to tell more and more people about how great boarding can be.

JC: Sort myself out. After 14 years of headship, it’s about time.

JN: To enjoy a completely new world of education in Australia. To get to know and take forward my new school in Adelaide.

AD: To find time to read more modern fiction and spend less time re-reading nineteenth-century novels.

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