The Telegraph reports that social mobility – or the lack of it – is under the spotlight following the resignation of the entire board of the government’s Social Mobility Commission. If Justine Greening, the Education Secretary under whose remit the Commission falls, is searching for some evidence that progress is actually being made to narrow the attainment gap between rich and poor, she might take a look at what, for many at first glance, might seem an unlikely place: Eton College.
In 2014, when Britain’s most famous public school announced it was to be educational sponsor to a new state-funded free school for boys and girls, the plans were roundly attacked as a gimmick to offer “Eton on the cheap”, rather than a genuine boost to social mobility.
As Holyport College is just eight miles away from its sponsor’s historic site near Windsor Castle, has a traditional ethos, fills 45 per cent of its places with boarders, and is able to use Eton’s top-of-the-range sport, technology and arts facilities, it would, critics suggested, attract not local just-about-managing parents looking for a good school to improve their children’s life chances, but rather those seeking all the perks of a private education, with the taxpayer picking up the tab.
Ben McCarey, deputy head of Holyport, smiles and shakes his head as he recalls the controversy. That isn’t, he says emphatically, how his school has turned out.
Far from being elitist, it has above-average levels of pupils with special educational needs, and from minority ethnic backgrounds. It also includes more “looked-after” children on its roll than in all the local schools around it put together.
This diversity was highlighted in its first Ofsted inspection, published in the summer, which judged the school outstanding in every aspect. “I am still fulfilling the goals of ‘excellence for all’ that brought me into state education in the first place,” McCarey explains.
While use of Eton’s second-to-none facilities is obviously going to benefit Holyport pupils – on the way in, we walk past a mixed group from both schools making good use of the “Eton Fives” courts – the benefits flow both ways, Tom Arbuthnott, director of outreach emphasises. “This is not just an attempt to grab a headline. Our students are so enriched by the Holyport relationship. The interaction between the two schools makes their whole experience of school better. Both sets of pupils realise that they aren’t that different.”
McCarey chips in. “Kids are kids. They learn from each other.
Read more about the relationship between Eton and Holyport How Eton is leading the way on social mobility
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