The news this week that four-fifths of schools in the maintained sector are now good or excellent generated something of a media storm in a teacup. Many commentators thought that it could only be good news for everyone that schools are improving, but some took it as a signal of an impending crisis for the independent sector.
The maintained sector has certainly seen significant improvements in the last six years. But the UK’s independent schools remain some of the best educational institutions in the world, with outstanding public exam results, rich co-curricular programmes and an unrivalled range of sixth form subjects. Surely we should be celebrating increasing excellence, not assuming that better schools in one sector necessarily mean fewer schools in another?
It is also the case that there is more and more collaboration between the sectors, with independent schools sharing facilities and expertise – from Latin lessons in local primary schools to Oxbridge preparation or in the case of one of our schools, Russian A level lessons – with their neighbouring maintained sector schools.
We should be celebrating increasing excellence, not assuming that better schools in one sector mean fewer schools in another.
Probably the most important decision most parents make is choosing a school for their child – and what they want is the right school for their particular child. It is still the case in many parts of the country that parents don’t have meaningful choice in the maintained sector. They live outside the catchment area, or the best schools are oversubscribed, or they may find that the only school their child is offered is neither good nor outstanding. The increase in primary and secondary aged children will only exacerbate the problem and is likely to leave many parents with even fewer options.
The success of maintained schools certainly isn’t a crisis for the independent sector. If anything, the interest in this subject demonstrates the value everyone in society - from politicians to parents, teachers to students - places on education. In our schools we will continue to focus on the most important task at hand - providing the best education and pastoral support for the students in our care.