Senior Head's Blog: The Independent Schools Sector

The beginning of this week saw the HMC Conference (Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference) take place in the wake of the policy proposal from the Labour party to remove charitable status from Independent Schools.  The suggestion is that this would raise something in the region of £1.7bn that a Labour Government would then reinvest into the maintained sector.  The reality is rather different.  Smaller independent schools would struggle to survive in this climate, and with some schools inevitably closing, the pressure on the maintained sector would increase, and the benefit to the Government would be reduced.  Independent Schools are also large employers, and with jobs being lost, and supply chains impacted, there would be a significant impact on local economies.  


As charities (and there are two kinds of independent schools: charities and 'for profit' schools), independent schools do not make money, but all income is reinvested into the charitable purposes - in most cases defined as education.  This status also means that schools are required to contribute to the wider community, through public benefit and partnerships, and while independent schools could do more, there is still a huge amount being done.  Today, we have pupils and staff in Cambridge, at the University, working with in order to encourage inclusion in sport.  During the pandemic, we provided accommodation for paramedics training to work in the ambulance service.  We support local and international charities, and work with other local schools on a huge range of different projects.  We also welcome some students on full bursaries, who would otherwise not have the opportunities that are part of the Felsted education.

Independent schools are also able to operate independently of government (in most areas, although we are of course governed by a legislative framework).  This enabled us to respond rapidly to the Covid crisis, it allows schools to be more experimental in their curriculum, and it means that we are still able to provide a much broader education, including Arts, Creativity, Sport, Drama and much more.  We are not driven solely by measures such as league tables.

I do believe that the quality of education provided in the maintained sector can be very good in many areas, and there are certainly areas that the independent sector can improve as well; but it is not a coincidence that the rest of the world looks at the independent sector in the UK as the benchmark for quality in education.  Many countries have sought to replicate these schools, and many students travel to experience life at UK boarding schools, and with good reason.  The policy of removing charitable status would not achieve its stated aim to increase revenue for the maintained sector, would widen, not close, social divides, and would simply create a narrower elite of schools, who could afford the increasing costs.  I hope that those making these decisions will reflect on this approach, and seek to ensure that they support an agenda of levelling up, by recognising and valuing the ethos and values of schools like Felsted.

Chris Townsend


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