Independents ‘don’t want to switch’ to free schools

Independents 'don’t want to switch' to free schools

Independent schools do not have a “widespread appetite” for moving into the state sector to make their education more widely available, according to the Independent Schools Council (ISC).

Barnaby Lenon (pictured), chair of the ISC, said in response to a question posed by Schools Week that he currently had no evidence independent schools were interested in becoming state-funded free schools.

He made the disclosure at a Westminster Education Forum event in central London on Wednesday, which focused on the paradox between rising costs for the independent sector and the need to prevent further fee increases so that professional parents could still afford private schooling.

Lenon also refuted that academies – with a couple of exceptions – had improved the state school sector, pointing to “deplorably low” GCSE results in the summer.

Delegates heard that private school fees had risen faster than parents’ salaries – with those in the £50,000 to £100,000 bracket now “struggling” and increasingly replaced by those earning £200,000 a year or more.

Private school fees had risen faster than parents’ salaries – with those in the £50,000 to £100,000 bracket now “struggling”

When questioned if private schools might seek to make their education more affordable by converting to become free schools, Lenon said: “A small number of independent schools [have moved over]. I’m not aware that any ISC independent schools is interested in moving over to the state school sector. So the answer to your question is no.

“The pretty small number that went into state schools in the past few years did so for very good reasons, and were dead right to do so, but there isn’t a widespread appetite, no.

“The reasons the schools I know well went into the state school sector […] are because they were short of pupils, and their numbers were declining. They have been revitalised by going into the state sector and being able to get rid of fees.”

But Lenon refuted that escalating fees had led to a decline in demand for private schooling, and responded to an audience member who spoke of the improving state sector snapping at their heels by saying: “You’re just wrong. […] There are two academy chains that are doing well, Harris and Ark, and there are a number of state schools in London.

“But taking academies as a whole, it has not yet resulted in a big and significant improvement in results.

“Let’s remind ourselves that this summer, 53 per cent of pupils in this country got five GCSEs at A* to C in English and maths – it’s a deplorably low figure, and it hasn’t gone up, it’s not going up.”

The government’s consultation into selection proposes that independent schools that do not sponsor academies and provide bursaries for poorer pupils could face the removal of charitable tax status.

Lenon said that he thought the government was “serious” about the plan “but I personally hope we can avoid that”.