Steve Spriggs, of William Clarence Education, writes for Schools Improvement
The government’s edict that independent schools must now share teaching staff with state schools in order to justify their charitable status leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t help feeling this is the government’s way of passing the buck to the private sector – ‘We aren’t funding the schools properly so we’ll give them to you to fund.’ Parents who scrimp and save to pay for their children’s education don’t expect to be paying for the education of less well-off kids in their neighbourhood. They’re already paying for that through their tax.
It sounds like something you would expect to hear during a philosophy lecture on how to produce a utopian society, yet this is real. New guidance published by the Department for Education proposes that children from state school should join their classes in subjects including English and the classics. Is everyone going to budge up while 40 kids squash into the room and share copies of Macbeth, reciting a line each?
I can only see one winner here – and that’s the government. I can’t see pupils of either school benefitting from cosying up together – the private school kids who now have lots more children in the class and the state school kids who have to walk in there cap-in-hand. And, as for the already-overworked teachers who have been asked to share their lesson plans and resources, well they certainly didn’t sign up to teach hundreds of more children. Why should they share their planning? You might as well ask them to share their salary.
And what is this saying to the teachers of state schools? Their lesson plans aren’t good enough? Their teaching isn’t good enough? That they need to rely on other teachers to do the job for which they are trained and qualified? This only undermines them. Like any employee, they need the support of their employer, who is in effect the government. Why should that be shouldered by teachers from neighbouring fee-paying schools? They aren’t public servants. They are not employed by the state.
Meanwhile the government save themselves money by getting the independent school teachers to effectively pay their staff. By removing work from state-school teachers who now find themselves with less planning and fewer classes, they become surplus to requirements and will probably be issued with their P45.
The order comes with mounting pressure for fee-paying schools to show they deserve their charitable status, for which they receive tax relief and VAT exemption. This status has been around for centuries and until 2006, every independent school was granted it automatically. Since then schools have to show they’re creating ‘a meaningful amount of public benefit’. In 2011 the Charity Commission tried to impose a number of requirements, such as defining which bursary schemes they should offer, but the schools challenged this and it has been left up to them to decide what is meaningful. It’s a grey area.
I certainly can see that allowing state-educated children to access private schools’ state-of-the-art science labs, top-of-the-range drama studios, full-size football pitches and heated swimming pools make sense. That form of collaboration could benefit everyone and rotas can be drawn up so different schools use them at different times. According to the Telegraph, over half of independent schools already share their facilities. Maybe the Department for Education should focus on telling the other half followed suit.
Bursaries and discounts have always been offered to the less well-off children and I think fee-paying schools have a duty to keep doing that. But introducing sharing of staff as a bargaining chip lumps all the pressure on the teachers and frees the government from its responsibility to fund state schools that we are all paying tax towards.
When a full-time teacher takes on extra work the quality of that work will reduce. It has to. They’re only human. Parents pay school fees because they believe they’re paying for a quality education and smaller classes and teachers who have more time on their hands to concentrate on their child. The moment it is no longer value for money, they’ll stop paying.
And if schools don’t agree to share staff, and are stripped of their charitable status, VAT will be added onto tuition fees, which will be disastrous for the already-struggling independent school market. Rumours are circulating about that being in the pipeline anyway and fees are already rising faster than many people can afford. All it will do is make the divide even greater: everyone will be at state school, bar the very wealthy.
Whoever came up with this idea needs to go back to the classroom and start again.
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