Richard Cairns, the Head of Brighton College, is regarded, by many of his peers in the independent sector, as one of their brightest, though, some might say, the competition is not fierce. He told a conference this week that ‘Private schools are “obsessed” with using means-tested bursaries to defend their charitable status and could help far more children by supporting academies. Too many independent school heads are “congratulating ourselves for saving Oliver Twist from the streets but we have lost sight of the Artful Dodger and his gang”, he said.
Cherry picking pupils from state schools, with tempting bursaries, it can be argued,plausibly, damages the schools that they leave, as they are important role models. Some pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds can also find it difficult to adjust to the rarefied environment of ‘public’ schools and there are many hidden costs in a private education ie parents are asked to fork out for pastoral and extra curricular activities that can be a huge ,and embarrassing, burden on the poorer parents. Charities should deliver public benefit and the aim, surely,should be to maximise public benefit. Self- evidently single bursaries, here and there, deliver limited benefit, so there is a logic to supporting academies as this broadens and up-scales the benefit. Cairns, though, is well behind the curve on this. Though the LAE, a free school sixth form college in Newham, was founded in 2012, with the support of Brighton College, and several other schools, including Eton College, it was Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, who first put his head above the parapet on this issue four or five years ago. At the time he was a lone voice in the independent sector preaching the benefits of academy and state school links, while putting his money where his mouth was ,by setting up a Wellington academy, in Tidworth. It does look as if Cairns has jumped on a passing bandwagon.But he wont be the last to do so. Isn’t it about time that Heads in the independent sector, stepped up to the plate and provided some err…real leadership in education, after all they are supposed to be the best?