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17 Jun 2015


Future Prospects


Two pieces of news this week –


The Independent reports that: Thousands of working-class people are being denied jobs at top firms, as they effectively need to pass a “poshness test” to join elite employers, according to the official body set up by the Government to promote social mobility… Alan Milburn’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. Its review shows that more than two-thirds of the job vacancies in elite legal and City firms are filled by university graduates who have been through private or grammar schools. (See:


Simultaneously, we are told that funding for state sixth forms and sixth form colleges has fallen so low that some colleges will close and many courses will be discontinued. (See: Such measures will further limit the potential for achievement and the aspirations to for the vast majority of our 16-19 year-olds who are educated in the state sector.


Is there any justification for such cuts? Is our financial recovery not predicated on the abilities and capacity to compete of our young?


Are these two news items related? Is this government determined that only those backed through school and university by the bank of Mum and Dad should be able to contribute to our society and fulfil their potential?


08 Jun 2015


That’s Entertainment


The Mail Online website reports that new Trip Advisor-style websites invite parents to comment on their children’s schools. Unsurprisingly, those who respond to this invitation are, in the main, people with axes to grind, spleen to vent, grudges to air.




The Mail reports: Edwin Chan, a 45-year-old financier who is behind the School Reviewer site, said it had grown out of his frustration with attempting to glean honest information on potential schools for his children.


“Honest information” is to not to be gleaned in such ways. What you get is anecdote and unrepresentative personal experience which may be fairly or unfairly reported and only partially informed by fact.




It is not moderated and invites abuse. Heads will invite their parents to write extolling the school – and which parent would refuse such a request? There will be public feuds – Mr A writes slamming Coldbath Towers’ sports and Mrs B, whose son captains the Coldbath rugby team, writes equally vehemently, to praise them to the skies.


Parents in touch


We are contacted regularly by parents with dire reports of mis-management, skulduggery and corruption at their children’s school. We listen with unprejudiced ears; we then investigate. We have contacts and moles in the schools we review and we can pursue the allegations till we have the truth.


Sometimes, the parental reports prove true and the facts are alarming. We then reflect this in our review or, if we are truly concerned, we take the school out of The Guide. But, on other occasions, what the parent tells us is, at best, a partial, prejudiced and unfair representation of the truth, based – more often than not – on a falling out with the school about fees, their child’s behaviour, or a finally enacted exclusion after several warnings.


The Real Thing


So – dear parents – read these “comments” and see them as entertainment. They are no substitute for the real thing that is The Good Schools Guide.


14 May 2015


Dear Power-Drunk of Admissions?


Oh, the pettiness of those puffed up with a little power!


I called yesterday the admissions department of a good, north London, all-girls, independent school with which I have a long and happy association. I was calling on behalf of the parents of an academically able girl who has significant physical disabilities. The parents hope the girl will attend the school from September 2016 when she will be 11 but they need answers to important questions to do with the practicalities of her moving around the school and the support she would need once there.


I had emailed these questions twice over the previous ten days but had received no response. My email had summarised the circumstances and asked a few specific questions. Receiving no response, I called the school’s admissions dept. I was told the admissions officer had been on annual leave and that they would deal with the enquiry when they got round to it. When I asked whether we might hear this week or next week – so that I could tell the parents what to expect – the person on the line told me she thought I was being very rude.


Now, I am not a parent anxious about whether or not my child will gain a coveted place. If I had been, I would have been pulverised by this. The question I asked – after a significant delay in getting a response to my email – was entirely reasonable but here was a person with a little bit of power and she was determined to make me feel it. Given, these days, how anxious parents get over places at such schools, admissions officers do have considerable power and, sadly, applicant parents often feel quite helpless in the face of this. They hope to entrust the most precious thing they have to their chosen school – and pay substantial sums for the privilege. You would expect the schools and their representatives to treat them with the respect and sensitivity they deserve.


The vast majority of registrars and admissions officers do so and, although they work under immense pressure – particularly at certain times of the year – they treat parents with courtesy and patience. In fact, they treat them as they would hope to be treated themselves.


But there are always the others. Officious, power-drunk admissions officers need to be reminded that without parents and children their schools would not exist and they would be out of a job.


08 May 2015


Great news – for some…


We send our congratulations to the election victors and we share other news – similarly happy for some – with our readers


The annual census carried out by The Independent Schools Council (ISC) provides impressive figures. There are record numbers of pupils – around 517,000 of them – at our 1,267 independent schools. That represents a rise of 1% on the previous year and, despite global financial stresses and a rise in fees of 3.5% – lower than usual – is not suggestive of bursars’ departments needing belt-tightening strategies.


Once again, there is a rise in numbers of overseas pupils – around 27,000 or 5.3% now come from overseas, the majority from China and Hong Kong though Russians , too, are prominent. Numerous independent boarding schools now depend on these pupils – some 50% or more now coming from overseas.


You might think that fees have been held down in view of economic pressures. Far from it. Today’s day pupil fee averages over £13,000 a year – 37% higher than in 2008 – while the boarding fee is around £30,000 – £8,000 up on 2008.


And it’s not just for the rich. A third of pupils at independent schools now receives some fee assistance in the form of bursaries or scholarships – amounting to a record £836 million a year. So – things are great. Aren’t they?


Well, no.


Only 7% of UK children are educated in independent schools. Just to spell it out, that means that 93% are educated by the state. This can and should be great. Academic standards are rising, especially in London. However, the reality for these children – and particularly for those due to start school in September – is that there aren’t anything like enough school places for them. Two out of five local authorities won’t be able to find a desk or a table for all its children. In the coming decade, places will need to be found for 880,000 additional children. Sticking another Portakabin in a crowded playground is not the answer. Neither is bolting on an additional class to an already pressured year group.


School places are like elections. You get five years’ warning. There is no excuse for this lack of forethought and planning. We are talking about the overwhelming majority of our children. They represent the future. We challenge Mr Cameron to ensure that by the next election in five years time, we won’t be writing the same thing again.



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