A week is a long time in politics and so too in the world of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC). While HMC represents the Heads of the leading independent schools in the UK and around the world, the focus in recent weeks has been on the UK Government’s education consultation which covers all schools in England. The consultation seeks views on proposals to create more places in good schools through the expansion of state-funded grammar and faith schools, and through requiring independent schools and universities to sponsor new and existing state-funded academies and free schools. This will occupy much thinking and negotiation in 2017 once the consultation closes on 12 December.
Every HMC school already has at least one partnership with local state schools which range from sponsorship of an academy to the sharing of teaching in vital specialist areas such as maths and modern languages. According to the ISC, 39 schools sponsor or co-sponsor 137 state-funded schools in England. Overall, partnership activities involve 10,000 state schools and benefit 160,000 pupils. These are significant, substantial and meaningful partnerships which have a profound effect on many of the individual children involved. And there is an appetite to do more. Our message to government is that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to successful partnership as it relies on mutually beneficial local relationships which cannot be forced.
For example, HMC has responded to the call from ministers for help in arresting the decline in the learning of languages in England’s schools by establishing, with a state school lead partner in Sheffield, a national school-based teacher training scheme for language teaching. It’s in all our interests not to allow languages to die. Launching in 2017, over 50 independent schools across the country have expressed an interest so far in providing training places and professional development to boost the supply of language teachers for the nation. This is an excellent example of where HMC schools can use their expertise in a highly focused and productive way.
There is an appetite to do more. Our message to government is that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to successful partnership as it relies on mutually beneficial local relationships which cannot be forced
The mental health and well-being of all pupils also continues as one of our key priorities. At our annual conference in October, we published the findings of a unique survey of teenagers using mobile devices overnight and its impact on their school life. In partnership with online safety organisation Digital Awareness UK (DAUK), we conducted a survey of 2,750 pupils aged 11-18, looking into teenage use of mobile devices and the impact this is having on their health and wellbeing. Almost half (45%) of students admit they check their mobile device after going to bed with a quarter of those spending more than an hour on their mobile device after going to bed. These findings are particularly relevant at this time as safety group, Internet Matters, recently found that more children fall victim of cyberbullying at the start of the school academic year than any other time due to the fact many of them have increased access to mobile devices. DAUK provide tips for teenagers and parents in how to use devices sensibly and HMC is pursuing further work in this area.
We also continue to work to the benefit of all children in ensuring they receive public exam results that reflect their achievements. Alongside NAHT and OFQUAL, we are seeking to improve the accuracy and consistency of marking to ensure fairness to the individual and public confidence in the quality of exams in general. This is particularly important as the first GCSEs are awarded in 2017 using the new 9-1 grades. Teachers in HMC schools already make a disproportionate contribution as examiners and we will encourage more schools across the country to get involved.
Physical activity and sport are central to the ethos and success of many of our leading schools and, more importantly, to the well-being of the youngsters who attend them. The variety of approaches to sport and PE in our schools is huge from those which emphasise traditional team games to those who specialise in individual sports such as biathlon. To date, there is limited research into how participation in sport impacts the mental health and well-being of those involved. HMC is commissioning this research and we look forward to sharing it with everyone.
So, 2017 will be a busy time for independent schools at a local and national level. No change there then!