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Roland Martin - Issue #7

Old chestnuts warmed up: a research challenge to journalists...

Roland Martin

January 12 · Issue #7 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Old chestnuts warmed up: a research challenge to journalists…

'Public School Elite'
The Times was keen to point out in its analysis of the New Years’ Honours List that little has changed in the last 60 years, its research demonstrating that the ‘top echelons’ of the honours system was 'dominated’ by the privately educated.
Honours list dominated by public school elite | The Times
The article tells some of the story though I suspect not all of it.  It seems a popular pastime for journalists to bash ‘private’ (or more correctly, 'independent’) schools in such articles without ever acknowledging the good that they do for social mobility.  
Many independent schools have for generations shown a commitment to championing children from 'normal’ -and often modest - backgrounds through scholarships, bursaries and awards for families from the Armed Forces, the Clergy or from orphaned backgrounds.  In the not so distant past, even the Government was involved in providing support through the Assisted Places’ Scheme.
Assisted Places
I have been fortunate in my teaching career to be involved in four schools all of which have demonstrated a tremendous commitment to social mobility and doubt I could happily work in one that wasn’t. My first, Newcastle-under-Lyme School, was populated by hard-working and talented children, many of whom were from ‘normal’ backgrounds, the school, benefitting as it did, from the largest number of children on the Assisted Places’ Scheme after Dulwich College. It was a great sadness that the decision of the Blair Government, elected in 1997, to abandon this scheme ripped something of the heart out of that school, giving it no alternative but to downsize by some 400 pupils over a number of years. The irony that many of the children, no longer able to benefit from an education in this cracking school, came from Labour-voting families was not lost to those of us working there at the time.  Within recent memory, there have been calls for re-instating the Assisted Places Scheme (article below from The Telegraph) though sadly, politically, it would be a brave Government that would align itself with such a move.
Government urged to bring back Assisted Places scheme - Telegraph
Four Letter Word
My next stop was Eton - that four-letter word also popular to bandy about in gutter-press articles - quite unfairly - as a blanket by-word for elitism. And of course, there were, and are, plenty of boys from privileged backgrounds at the School. But there were, and are, huge numbers of boys who are not from such backgrounds and the school has perhaps been understated in advertising a very real commitment to social mobility. By the time I left in 2011, 24% of the boys in my boarding house (54 strong) were benefitting from considerable financial assistance, 9% being on entirely free places. I had a boy from Ray Lewis’ brilliant Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy in the house, a young man from a challenging single-parent background in Birmingham and had been asked by Tony Little to take one of the first two ‘New Foundation Scholars’ into Jourdelay’s/RJM. I sincerely hope that a proportion of this 24% makes it into future New Year’s Honours’ Lists …
Remember your roots
I left Eton in 2011 to lead Rendcomb College, a fascinating school set up after The Great War by Noel Wills who altruistically wanted to give young boys as then was - largely from agricultural backgrounds - a shot at a ‘public school’ and University education. One of Rendcomb’s founding Governors - Cannon Sewell - was fundamental in fostering strong links with the Gloucestershire County Education Committee who provided generous support through Gloucestershire Foundation Scholarships. Staggeringly, between 1934 and 1978 on average, 33% of Rendcomb’s students each year were given quite significant - and often free - places in the School through the generosity of the County Council, the Wills family - who remain generously involved to this day - and other benefactors. I was one of the pupils who benefitted, receiving a Gloucestershire Foundation Scholarship between 1982-1989. For me, an only child, whose father died when I was very young, living on a council estate in Gloucester, this award certainly changed my stars and I will be forever grateful for it; I was the only one of twenty-one cousins to benefit from a University education and have thus far enjoyed a wonderfully rewarding career in education as a result. The Gloucestershire Foundation Scholarships were replaced by the Assisted Places Scheme and ultimately, Rendcomb’s ability to sponsor as many students as it had done in the past was compromised in the same way as it was at Newcastle under Lyme School. That said, through the generosity of the Wills family, the School still offers one entirely free place to a pupil from a Gloucestershire Primary School (most recently awarded to pupils from junior schools in Cheltenham’s most challenging neighbourhoods - believe me, there are some! - led by the stunning, inspritational Head, Charles Welsh) and remains generous with bursary support.
Be present
I am currently Head of The City of London Freemen’s School in Ashtead. We were set up in 1854 in Brixton to educate orphaned children of Freemen (no - not Freemasons, which seems to be a common mistake made!) of The City of London. The school was the second City School to be founded, twenty years after the Boys’ School and has always been co-educational (making it one of the oldest co-educational independent schools in the country), always had a Junior School and has always had an element of boarding. In 1926, we moved to Surrey, though our City connections are still strong. It is a fantastic place which very swiftly gets under one’s skin. And like my previous three schools, Freemen’s is committed to being genuinely responsible where funding bursary places is concerned - The City of London Corporation insists on it - and both my Chair of Governors, Stuart Fraser, Chair-elect, Roger Chadwick and the Town Clerk, John Barradell make very clear their ambition to want to broaden access to Freemen’s.
Be responsible
These are just four ‘private’ schools about which I have an intimate working knowledge. Independent schools across associations demonstrate a very tangible commitment to trying to allow access to the education that they provide, with HMC schools alone providing a million pounds per day to families in financial assistance. It would be interesting for a journalist to research how the amount committed by independent schools to educating children from backgrounds that could not be considered 'elite’ compares with the amount that the Assisted Places’ Scheme provided: I expect the sector has more than compensated for the deficit. 
Heads of independent schools often acknowledge that they have a duty to use the charitable resources available to them in a responsible way. Parents can sometimes get unnerved when asked to fill in financial declarations but it is imperative that charitable resources go to the families most in need of them. The dangers for independent schools in not being transparent and responsible in their awards was most recently, and perhaps bravely, pointed out by Niall Hamilton, Admissions’ at Marlborough - also in The Times, as it happens…
Wealthy ‘using scholarships to fund ski trips’ | The Times
Social Mobility Champions
There are some real champions of social mobility out there in the independent sector.  The work that Patrick Derham did at Rugby, continued by Peter Green, with The Springboard Bursary Foundation, wonderfully led by Ian Davenport, to empower children whose families would not in their wildest dreams imagine such an opportunity to be possible, namely to benefit from a boarding education, has been transformational.  In a short period of time, Springboard has established itself as a trailblazer in the field and the Impact Assessment available on the Charity’s website makes for very encouraging reading.
Home - The SpringBoard Bursary Foundation transforms the lives of disadvantaged children
As far as independent day schools are concerned, John Claughton has re-established Assisted Places at King Edward’s School, Birmingham, raising staggering sums, driven by the very sincere passion that he feels as a former pupil of the school.  As far as fund-raising films go, this one has to win the award…
AP100 Campaign Film
And there are of course countless other Heads in the independent sector who believe passionately in educating children in their schools across a full cross-section of society and who use whatever resources they have, responsibly, in so-doing.
The gauntlet
Last week, the Labour Party called for ‘public’ schools to 'be forced’ to open up Departments to state school children.  
Jeremy Corbyn tries to force public schools to open up music, arts, sport facilities to state schoolchildren - Telegraph
I have never worked in an independent school that doesn’t work with state schools.  Freemen’s uses resources and facilities to link with a local Academy to run a joint-school CCF and is developing strong links with another impressive local Academy: City of London Academy, Southwark as well as maintaining other relationships with local primary and secondary schools. Perhaps both the political leaders, politicians and journalists should spend some time doing some research on what the independent sector does - noting Barnaby Lennon’s 93% statistic - before putting out blanket statements about what it should do?  The Schools Together website might give them a steer as it becomes increasingly populated with interesting cross-sector initiatives.
However, the research that I would really like to see The Times involved in - or any other newspaper that is up to the challenge - is to work out how many of the ‘privately educated elite’ that it persists in attacking were given a leg up in life through financial awards; I strongly suspect there will be a good number. In a survey that I carried out among school leader colleagues -members of The Society of Heads - last year (some 120+ members) I found out from the 72 who responded that 50% had attended an independent school themselves and that 60% of those who had done so had received some sort of scholarship, bursary or financial award.  Anna Turley obviously feels politically burdened by her independent school education: she notes that it gave her a considerable advantage; I note that she benefitted from an academic scholarship to attend.
I wonder if a similar story might be revealed if the 'top echelons’ were researched a little more…?
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