Education & Family

Private schools must help state schools, says Ofsted

Sir Michael Wilshaw
Image caption Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw says private schools need to do more to help state schools

Private schools have been accused of failing to support their local state schools, in a "call to arms" from Ofsted chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw.

He told the head teachers of leading independent schools that they should sponsor academies, rather than only offer "crumbs off your table".

There was a frosty reception from some of the heads, who accused Sir Michael of creating a false impression.

But he told them: "Not enough of you are willingly going the extra mile."

Sir Michael's call for greater involvement between state and independent schools was delivered at the annual conference of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) in London.

Sponsoring academies

The delegates, representing some of the most prestigious private schools, were challenged to make greater efforts to use their resources and expertise to support their neighbouring state schools.

Sir Michael argued that many of the links between private and state schools were only "thin stuff", such as occasionally making a playing field available.

He called for a more sustained connection, such as sponsoring an academy, telling the head teachers that the private and state sectors should not be seen as rivals but as sharing a joint moral project to educate.

As state schools become increasingly more autonomous, Sir Michael said, they could learn much from the long experience of independent schools at running their own affairs.

He told the private school heads that they would not diminish their own success or academic advantage by supporting other local schools.

"Education should not be a scarce resource hoarded by those lucky enough to possess it. Education is meant to be shared. Its power does not decrease with the giving. It is an economic and social good," said Sir Michael.

But the criticism prompted an angry response from some delegates, who claimed that Sir Michael was misrepresenting their commitment to collaborating with state schools.

They also challenged the idea that sponsoring an academy should be the key measure of their intentions.

Head teachers also told Sir Michael that their attempts to engage with local state schools had been rejected, because of political hostility to the independent sector.

However Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, spoke in support of Sir Michael's emphasis on sponsoring academies.

He told fellow head teachers that there was more to be gained by both private and state schools from such a sustained and structured relationship.

Sir Michael also took issue with the idea that inner city head teachers were focusing too much on exam results, rather than a more holistic approach.

He said their priority must be helping disadvantaged children to academic success.

"These heads in inner city London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds haven't got the time to worry whether their children are climbing trees proficiently," said Sir Michael.

"These heads know that gaining academic qualifications is the one route out of poverty and disadvantage.

"They would find it deeply insulting to believe that some in this room felt that they don't worry sufficiently about a balanced education for their students," he said.

In response, the HMC's general secretary, William Richardson, said: "We look forward to continuing our highly varied work with colleagues in maintained schools, in providing Sir Michael with illuminating examples and in assuring him that such work is informed by educational values that are both thorough-going and broadly-based."

Sir Michael's comments were criticised by the leader of another independent schools' body, who said 90% of private schools were working with state schools.

Matthew Burgess, general secretary of the Independent Schools Council, said: "Once again, Sir Michael Wilshaw shows his lack of understanding at just how much work independent schools are already doing in collaboration with their state sector colleagues.

"As a sector, we can be proud of the enormous amount of time and energy devoted by independent school teachers and leaders in working for the benefit of all children."

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