Don’t scapegoat private schools for social ills, says head

Private schools should be celebrated and not blamed for the “social ills” of the nation, says a leading headteacher.

There should be “collective pride” that Britain has created some of the best schools in the world, according to Richard Harman, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC).

In a speech, he is expected to argue that independent schools help to improve social mobility, not hamper it.

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Private schools should not be lectured, he warns, especially by those who have benefited from this type of education – a comment that is likely to be seen as aimed at leading politicians.

Mr Harman, who is also headmaster of Uppingham School in Rutland, is expected to tell the HMC’s annual meeting in Newport, Wales: “It is time to stop scapegoating and start celebrating our schools and their contribution. Stop using them as lazy shorthand for the social ills of our country.

“Move beyond envy and take collective pride in the fact that a small country like Britain has created some of the very best schools in the world.

“Quite apart from the parents in the UK who are making real sacrifices to send their children to our schools, there are also parents from Azerbaijan to Germany to China and beyond, looking to get the best education for their child in this country.”

Parents choose to send their child to a UK independent school firstly because of their academic excellence, he argues. Universities depend on the private sector for candidates in science, engineering, medicine, languages and the classics, he is to insist.

Fee-paying schools also teach pupils other key qualities such as character, creativity and critical thinking, Mr Harman addst.

“Independent school leaders, along with many others, may be concerned by what one journalist recently called the UK’s sclerotic social mobility,” he is expected to say.

“This disease does not just affect the UK, of course, but attacking the excellence of the education we provide will never help solve it.”

Mr Harman is expected to use his speech to attack a suggestion made by former Education Secretary Michael Gove earlier this year that there would be no-one better to inspect private schools than Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw, and to call for exams regulator Ofqual to do more to improve the exams system, including marking.