Spectator schools

Moving on | 14 March 2019

Will independent schools ever be sensibly discussed in the media, in politics or over the supper tables of the nation? It is a long-standing national habit to view all independent schools as aloof, expensive, exclusive and barred to almost everyone in the land. The impression is now gaining ground that the cost has become so great (the figure £40,000 a year crops up regularly) that soon only Russian oligarchs and other members of the world’s super-rich elite will be able to afford them. This takes to extreme lengths a misapprehension that all independent schools, of which there are 2,500, have been created in the image of a handful of famous

The stick doesn’t work

As a disillusioned former English teacher, I miss talking to teenagers about books. But I also rejoice in my freedom from the dreaded Ofsted. At first glance, Ofsted’s new inspection framework might promise a breath of fresh air to teachers suffocating under a pile of data. Assessment will in future be judged as part of the more open ‘quality of education’ area, rather than being a focus in its own right. But a closer read reveals that Ofsted is fundamentally out of touch. ‘Behaviour and attitudes’ will also become one of the four areas judged. Schools will be encouraged to get ‘tough’ on disruptive students. In June last year, the

Out in the cold

Children have a right to an education. This has been written into English law since the Forster Education Act of 1870, which began the process of making education compulsory for children aged between five and 13, and no one in their right mind would oppose that statement. So when the number of permanent exclusions from schools is on the rise, the reasons behind this should be examined carefully. A child excluded from school is not accessing education, and therefore their rights have been violated. But is it really that simple? A breakdown of the groups most often excluded does not bring up many surprises. In nearly half the cases, exclusions

School portraits | 14 March 2019

  Merchant Taylors’ School One of the country’s ‘great nine’ schools, Merchant Taylors’ School, near Rickmansworth, was founded in 1561 by the Merchant Taylors’ Company. Catering for boys from the ages of three to 18, it is highly academic but also well known for its extracurricular provision and pastoral care. Activities range from Combined Cadet Force and the Duke of Edinburgh Award to Greek and Mythology Club. It has a tutorial system, with each boy assigned a tutor who looks after him throughout his time at the school. Merchant Taylors’ also has a campus of 285 acres of parkland, and there is easy access from the Metropolitan line. More recently

Camilla Swift

Location, location

In large cities, a school can weave itself into the fabric of its locality almost without anyone noticing it’s there. But in smaller towns and villages a school, particularly a large one, can play a much greater part in the day-to-day life of its inhabitants. In some towns and villages, the school is even the focal point. Take Peaslake in the Surrey Hills. In 1993, the village school was closed down as it was considered ‘too small’ to be viable. When a campaign by local residents and parents to keep it open failed and government funding was removed, the Peaslake Schools Trust was formed. For three years the school operated

A class of their own

I never meant to conduct a social experiment. I never intended to undermine anyone’s confidence in their judgement. And I certainly never meant to arouse so much hostility. Yet by choosing to home-school my six-year-old this is precisely what I seemed to be doing. Like many other desperate parents, I hadn’t got our first choice of primary state school (this year, just 68 per cent of parents in our Local Education Authority, Kensington and Chelsea, did). In fact, the only place for Izzy was at a primary across the river, which would take over an hour of travelling to get to. So I decided to teach Izzy at home. To

Laura Freeman

En avant

‘Nose over toes.’ ‘Index fingers in.’ ‘Hands at cheekbone width.’ Watching morning classes at the Royal Ballet School in Richmond Park is a revelation. If you’ve ever sat in the stalls at Covent Garden and wondered what it takes to be Giselle, Odette or the Sugar Plum Fairy, here is your answer: devotion, dedication, concentration and several hundred pairs of worn-through slippers. And if you’ve ever wondered why the dancers of the Royal Ballet look so at home among fairytale castles, kingdoms of sweets and enchanted woods… Well, they grew up with it. White Lodge, built as a royal hunting retreat for George II in 1730, would make an enchanting

Ross Clark

Unconditionally yours

I know what it is like to receive an unconditional offer for university. In 1984, when I took the Cambridge entrance exam, if you passed, you then only had to meet the matriculation requirements of the university, which were two Es at A-level. For someone predicted straight As (virtually all Oxbridge candidates), that wasn’t asking a lot. It was hard not to slacken off a little, to take a mental gap year, or six months at any rate, for the last two terms of the sixth form. I slipped to a B in further maths, which seemed an embarrassment at the time, though I know others who took a bigger

Opting for God

‘It’s the same old story — pay or pray,’ said my oldest friend, sardonically, when I told him I was sending my children to a Church of England school. I could hardly blame him for being cynical. He’d known me since we were teenagers, when we were both devout and pious atheists. Yet now I was educating my kids for free, while he was forking out a small fortune to go private. No wonder he felt a bit put out. Since I started going to church again, our friendship has not been quite the same. For cash-strapped parents, the C of E system is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it solution to an age-old

Open access

Rugby was immortalised in Tom Brown’s School Days, but its headmaster, Peter Green, is brandishing another book — a Christie’s catalogue with the school’s name on it. During an attic clear-out items were discovered in an archive room and were put up for sale. They had been given to the school in around 1880 by the Old Rugbeian Matthew Holbeche Bloxam, and included Chinese ceramics and British watercolours. The highlight was a rare drawing by Dutch Old Master Lucas van Leyden, which sold for £10 million. If the decision to sell that seems crass, it isn’t, says Green. ‘Why would we keep it? It has no intrinsic value to Rugby School.

School report | 14 March 2019

Should we scrap GCSEs? A senior MP has suggested getting rid of GCSEs and reshaping A-levels altogether; but not everyone agrees. Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, wants to rewrite the exam system so that A-levels include a mixture of vocational, academic and arts subjects, arguing that ‘all the concentration should be on the final exam before you leave’. ‘All young people should have access to the technical and creative subjects that will give them the skills that employers are looking for,’ says Halfon. ‘We must move from knowledge-rich to knowledge-engaged.’ The Department for Education, on the other hand, shows no sign of dropping GCSEs, describing them as

Camilla Swift

Editor’s Letter | 14 March 2019

What should we do with difficult students? The ones who distract everyone else in the class, and don’t care how they are punished? Some schools exclude struggling pupils because they are worried that their exams performance might drag down the class’s grades. But children have a right to an education, says Sophia Waugh, so we need to find a solution. Former teacher Hannah Glickstein agrees, but argues that new Ofsted rules have been put in place by bureaucrats with no experience of teaching. It might not be the sexiest of subjects, but it’s certainly an important one. Talking of exams, Ross Clark takes a look at the rise in unconditional

Not dead – yet

It was a dark afternoon in November, and the wind was rattling the casements of the bare schoolroom. My small but enthusiastic class of Greek students nibbled chocolate biscuits and listened politely as I ploughed through yet another list of irregular verbs. Suddenly, standing by the electronic whiteboard, I had a sort of minor epiphany (Epiphany: from the Greek term for a god’s manifestation to undeserving mortals). Why, I asked myself, were these bright teenagers devoting so much time to studying a difficult language which they would never be able to use to communicate, whose native speakers died two millennia ago, and in which it would take years to reach

Laura Freeman

The bad boys of Naples

Goodnight, Caecilius. Goodnight, Metella. Farewell, faithful Cerberus the dog. What a fate. Buried under the ash and rock at Pompeii. ‘Eheu,’ as they say in the Cambridge Latin Course. ‘Oh dear, oh no.’ But what’s this? A boat leaving the Bay of Naples… A young man on board… Coughing black dust, but… alive. Yes, it’s Quintus, sailing to safety and Book Two. Here we will learn about Quintus’s further adventures in Roman Britain, trips to the baths at Aquae Sulis and an audience with good King Cogidubnus. What fun we had with Caecilius and Co. What bread, what circuses. What larks with Grumio and Clemens, the two buffoonish slaves. Parents

School portraits | 6 September 2018

    Bath Academy   Based in the beautiful city of Bath, this tutorial college is one of very few in the south-west to offer flexible academic programmes for a wide range of students. As well as being a sixth-form college, Bath Academy also offers GCSE courses, revision courses and resits in a wide range of subjects. The Academy’s University Foundation Programme was the UK’s first independent foundation programme. Equivalent to A-levels or the International Baccalaureate, it is designed primarily for international students who want to study at a British university. The focus is on a personalised approach to learning, with small class sizes and regular meetings between students and

Camilla Swift

Rise of the machines

‘There is a profound mismatch between the way we are educating our young and the world we’re educating them for, and what should, and could, be happening.’ So says Sir Anthony Seldon, former headmaster of Wellington College and vice-chancellor of Buckingham University. Seldon is well known for promoting novel ideas when it comes to education. During his time at Wellington he was often in the limelight for his original style of thinking, or ‘visions for education’ as he puts it; for example, his decision to introduce mindfulness into the curriculum there. Seldon isn’t just a teacher, though. He’s also a historian and a political biographer, as well as being a

Summertime blues

Every year, like clockwork it comes, the traditional concern that the younger generation don’t do summer jobs like they used to. As the school holidays approach a politician is wheeled out to write a nostalgia piece about part-time jobs, and the ‘essential skills’ these offer. Holiday and Saturday jobs, you see, are the foundations of a successful career, with their promise of resilience-building and priority-juggling. Some statistics will be cited about businesses being desperate for applicants with ‘soft skills’, and on cue, media-friendly CEOs are trotted out to support whichever wayward minister has been handed the keys to the Workshy Teenagers wagon. And so it was that in late July,

Camilla Swift

Share in the community

The theatre, we are told, is increasingly becoming the domain of the privately educated. The Guardian has even claimed that the working-class actor is ‘a disappearing breed’, and it’s certainly true that public school-educated actors such as Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Damian Lewis (the list goes on) are rarely off our screens. But what’s the reason for it? Why are our independent schools so good at churning out Bafta- (or indeed Oscar)-winning actors and actresses? A large part of it comes down to the teaching and the facilities available. Most public schools offer a school theatre, as well as full-time drama teachers, theatre managers and so on. In