Why our next government should prioritise education

Why our next government should prioritise education

The education sector has been watching closely during the election campaign to see what the respective parties are promising for schools.

Whoever ends up leading the next government, my message to them is the same – focus on improving education.

The obvious first priority is for the new Government to increase funding for the state sector – but improvement cannot rely on simple investment alone. A bold, forward-looking government would also look at other ways of helping schools. We should all work together in the interests of imp-roving our already world-class education system.

In recent months the independent sector has been characterised as the cause of the lack of social mobility in this country, but if we really look into this, is the independent sector honestly the cause?

I would recommend politicians look at why independent schools are popular and bring parts of the grossly underfunded state sector up to their level. It is clear that parents are enthused by factors such as smaller class sizes, a breadth of classroom curriculum and co-curricular opportunities.

In addition, as a sector we have recently been asking the government to reintroduce a version of the assisted-fees system, which Tony Blair’s Government abolished, whereby the independent sector accommodates extra pupils from the state sector, made possible by the Government paying to the independent school the money it spends per head for state school pupils, with the independent school picking up the rest of the cost. I wonder if the next government might seriously consider this.

Private schools could also work with local authorities in a similar way to help them manage the lack of places in some areas.

Furthermore, an ongoing commitment to partnership between the state and private sectors is key – partnership enables both schools in a partnership to thrive, and together we can focus on enabling every child to have a first-rate

I see this regularly in my own school. We have been a sponsor of The John Wallis Church of England Academy in Ashford for the past decade.

I and the John Wallis Principal sit on one another’s governing bodies, there’s a wonderful student mentoring programme, we run a combined cadet force, and our heads of academic departments regularly meet to share ideas of best practice in the classroom.

We are proud of our partnership working, and realistically we can support more local children this way than through our bursary scheme. (I fully accept that the sector needs to do more on this front; at Benenden we are fundraising hard to dramatically increase our bursary provision).

There is potential for the sector to develop even greater partnerships, and meaningful partnership working goes beyond schools.

Our facilities are frequently used by local groups, and more than 100 of our girls each week volunteer to help in the local community. We have also been providing free lessons to local state schools who have been forced to cut back on certain subjects.

A new government could develop education further still. The argument for university applications reform is now compelling.

Making offers after A Levels, rather than relying on the current imperfect system of predicted grades, would be a step forward. I also support the wider use of contextual offers from universities, in which applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds have to meet lower grade expectations than their more privileged counterparts.

Universities, rightly, want the best candidates, and independent school headteachers would not, I would hope, want to stand in the way of a strong system for ensuring a level playing field.

However, equally we do not want to see bright, hard-working students educated at private schools miss out on places at top universities because of social engineering.

Education is of paramount importance to society – and to voters. Any new government would do well to understand that independent schools are not part of the problem. In fact, they should be a vital part of the solution.

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