Will Bickford Smith teaches politics at an independent boarding school and is a Teach First ambassador.
Whenever I hear politicians champion their latest plan to improve state education, I consciously take a moment to turn my mind back a year to when I was working at a challenging London state school, and ask: “would this policy have helped me become a better classroom teacher for my pupils?” “Would it have reduced the never-ending piles of books to mark or solved the lack of strong leadership on discipline?”
So when Tristram Hunt last week unveiled a “core vote” policy regarding the charitable status of independent schools, it became clear that he utterly fails to understand the measures required to improve the plight of teachers working in challenging schools. What merit is there in forcing state school teachers to collaborate with their private peers when many teachers in state schools currently don’t have enough time in the day to eat lunch or collaborate with teachers within their own school?
The best state schools show clearly that a great education can be achieved through high expectations, strong discipline and excellent teaching. So why do the Labour Party now see independent schools as the saviour of the rest? Why do they believe that social mobility will be achieved if only private schools would play state schools at football? Of course wealthy independent schools should share their facilities and offer Oxbridge support, but the ISA estimates that 90 per cent already do so.
Rather, at the heart of this policy appears to be a desire to rule by diktat, forcing independent schools
to pass the government’s ominous collaboration-audit – or face a hefty tax increase. However, when recent research from Oxford Economics shows that the government saves an estimated £3.9 billion a year from parents who choose to pay for their child to be educated, compared with the £165m annual tax breaks for schools, what better argument, in an age of austerity, for instead maintaining tax breaks for independent schools?”