Senior Headmaster’s Blog: The HMC Conference 2019 - Looking forward, not backwards

The HMC annual conference took place at the start of this week, and it was a very interesting time for this conference to take place. The HMC (Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference) is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, representing nearly 350 independent schools, mostly in the UK, but now with just over 50 global members as well.

Felsted was one of the original twelve members in 1869, represented by W. S. Grignon (of the Grignon Hall), one of Felsted's most influential Heads. It was the following year (1870) that provision for state education was first set up in the Elementary Education Act.

Felsted Footprints Charity Event - Friday 4 October 2019

However, this year's was a conference that was charged with looking forward, not backwards. Nobody could deny the role that the independent sector has played in the education of this country across the centuries; but, the question of what role independent education has to play in the future is a crucial one for all schools to be able to answer. Three messages came out clearly from the conference. For all of us, there must be a reaffirmation of the desire to provide excellence in our education, through a broad minded approach to education that is not limited by league tables and governed solely by data. Second, we must engage with our local communities, and make a positive difference to those around us, through partnerships that have a genuine impact. Third, and perhaps most importantly, we must ensure that we do not encourage a sense of entitlement among our students, but instead focus on leading them towards a commitment to service, and an understanding of the responsibility that they face because of their opportunity.

These three messages reminded me of the three questions that I encouraged the students to ask themselves during this week's assembly on Monday morning:

  • Am I working as well as I am able to, by focusing on each lesson, reviewing my work, and putting my best effort into my learning?
  • Am I taking opportunities outside the classroom to develop myself as a person, taking responsibility for whatever I am doing?
  • Am I making sure that I am someone who contributes positively to the life of others, through active good behaviour?

The combination of the responsibility of the school (to deliver the best kind of education, contribute to the community, and get the best out of the students) is supported and enhanced by the commitment of the students to get the best out of their time at Felsted (in the classroom, outside and as an individual), and then supplemented by the support, engagement and dedication of the parents.

A few other thoughts from the conference included the following:

Professor James Tooley, who has studied private education around the globe, reported that, even in areas of great poverty, parents are aspirational for their children through education, and will seek out the best opportunity for their children, wherever it is. Clare Balding advised us to be prepared to take a break and read the latest Jojo Moyes novel!

Mark Thompson (the current CEO of the NY Times) said that we must listen to those who would criticise us, not just ignore them and say that we are right, or how will we ever really improve?

Finally, the message that closed the conference for me was the quote attributed to Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has".

I believe that many of the students currently at Felsted will have a positive impact on the world that they go out into, make a difference and leave it a better place. That is a pretty impressive legacy.

Chris Townsend