To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the progress of partnership work between maintained and independent schools.
My Lords, I declare at the outset my interest in the subject of this debate. I am a former general secretary of the Independent Schools Council—the ISC—which both accredits, and works on behalf of, some 1,300 of the 2,500 independent schools in our country today. Although more than 80% of pupils being educated in the independent sector attend ISC schools, it should be noted that there are more than 1,000 other schools in the sector which prefer to go their own way. I am also president of the Independent Schools Association, one of the ISC’s constituent bodies. I thank all noble Lords who will be contributing to this debate.
I sought this debate primarily to provide an opportunity for the further discussion of partnership work between ISC and maintained schools, which featured quite prominently in the debates in 2015 on what is now the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act. At the Report stage on that measure, which took place on 20 July 2015, important commitments were given on behalf of the ISC and the Government by my noble friend Lord Bridges of Headley. I thought it would be useful to revisit those commitments and review progress.
I would also like to comment briefly on the proposals relating to independent schools in the Government’s remarkable consultation paper, Schools that Work for Everyone, which was published last September, and on the ISC’s response to it. The document’s remarkable features include poor drafting that invites stern rebuke from the nation’s English teachers. Its opening sentences embodies a tiresome party political catchphrase:
“This consultation sets out the Government’s ambition to create an education system that extends opportunity to everyone, not just the privileged few”.
The Government cannot possibly believe that the aim of education reformers since the 19th century—Liberal, Labour and Tory—has been to fashion a system that serves the interests of only a privileged few.
Partnerships between the two sectors of education have existed for a long time. When I arrived at the Independent Schools Council in 1997, exactly 20 years ago, I found a well-established tradition of encouraging work with maintained schools and local communities. An annual audit was published. It occasionally got a small paragraph in the press. For the first time, the Government started to show interest. In 1998, the then Labour Minister of State for School Standards, Stephen Byers, established an advisory group on independent/state school partnerships which awarded modest grants to specific projects involving schools in both sectors.
I circulated a paper in 1998 on behalf of this group. It stated: “The general perception has been, for far too long, of two education sectors working separately towards the same goal—the success of their pupils. Since all schools are in the business of trying to secure the best education for their pupils, each sector has a wealth of skills and expertise from which the other could benefit”. The stress that was laid on the value that both sectors can derive from partnership was—and remains—crucial. It became one of the themes of Labour education policy.
What we lacked over the years was really authoritative, detailed information about the extent of partnership work. The need for it emerged clearly during the debates in 2015, to which I have referred. Some noble Lords, who felt strongly that not nearly enough was being done, pressed for legal compulsion, particularly in the spheres of music and sport, where much is now being done in partnership but where undoubtedly still more could be achieved. Facts were required. As Dr Mark Bailey, High Master of St Paul’s School, has said recently:
“It’s an area of education that is particularly vulnerable to wide generalisations and a lack of full understanding”.
In July 2015, the ISC committed itself to developing a website which would, for the first time, provide a platform where partnership work could be exhibited, and to which schools in both sectors could contribute. The website, entitled Schools Together, was launched in January 2016; 1550 projects now appear on it. Furthermore, the ISC is, as it promised in 2015, now gathering fuller information than ever before from member schools—information that it is sharing with the Charity Commission. For its part, the commission has produced fuller guidance on public benefit and now requires partnership work to be reported to it in greater detail.
In all this, it is essential to bear one point above all in mind: independent schools vary so greatly in size, in income, in areas of particular expertise and much else besides, that uniform obligations in respect of partnership work could not be laid equitably upon them. As the ISC has put it in its response to the Government’s consultation paper:
“We have found that successful partnerships rest on strong local relationships and freedom for schools to support them according to their particular circumstances and capabilities”.
That has always seemed to me the right approach. I hope this Government agree with it.
One further commitment was given in July 2015. My noble friend Lord Bridges announced that the Charity Commission would carry out a research project so that discussion could be based,
“more solidly on a better understanding of what is actually the case”,—[Official Report, 20/7/15; col. 974.]
where partnership work is concerned. He added that the research would be published and debated in the House. The Minister will no doubt report on the progress of this important work when he comes to reply.
I have spoken disrespectfully about certain aspects of the Government’s consultation paper. I do not have undivided admiration for the section of it which sets out proposals for independent schools. Though proper acknowledgement is given to existing partnership work, the proposals are expressed in the language of intimidation, not partnership, which is astonishing from a Tory Government. The message is unambiguous: work hard to add,
“extra capacity to the state sector”,
and create masses of free places in your own schools, or your charitable status will be at risk. Nowhere is there any recognition of the fact that the total annual benefit arising from charitable status is some £150 million, while ISC schools, some of which do not even have charitable status, devote over £850 million to means-tested bursaries and fee remission.
The ISC has replied to the Government in the language of partnership. It has proposed jointly funded free places and consortia of schools to help create more good places in the maintained sector. Discussions between the ISC and the Department for Education are in progress. I hope they reach a satisfactory conclusion.
Back in 1997, the Labour Government set out three guiding principles: first, “the high standards being achieved in independent schools must not be compromised”; secondly, “change must be voluntary”; and thirdly, “there must be no imposition from above”. The Government should stick to those well-tried principles.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing this debate and for introducing it so well.
The Prime Minister has spoken often about creating a meritocratic Britain. By this she means that a good education should be within the reach of all our children. It is therefore a scandal that nearly 90% of our independent schools are rated good or outstanding and 80% of them outstanding, but only 20% of state schools are regarded as outstanding. This leads to a waste of talent because state schools do not produce outstanding children. It leads to a shortage of skilled labour and, more importantly, to resentment and frustration among a large number of state school pupils who feel that they are not getting their due for their talent.
It is striking that it is the threat of Brexit that has alerted us to the enormity of this danger and, as the Prime Minister said, now that Britain is about to embark on a new adventure it is time to rethink all the old certainties. It is unfortunate that a question of this magnitude should come up in this context, which is polemical, polarises the country and does not allow us an independent assessment of the two concepts of schools.
When we talk about independent schools it is also worth bearing in mind that there are about 2,300 and 50% of them are pretty small—with fewer than 150 pupils—which educate between them just under half a million pupils aged five to 15. The partnership between state schools and independent schools has to be seen in that context. So how do we improve state schools? Various Governments have come and gone and floated all kinds of ideas and we have more or less agreed that if we are going to improve state schools we will have to think in terms of allocating more resources to them, with better teachers, greater autonomy and leadership at the top, and increasing parents’ say in how they are run. Independent schools can and do contribute to this, but not for the reasons that are generally cited. The reason cited is that independent schools get charitable status; they get relief from business rates and therefore, as a kind of contractual quid pro quo, they should give something back to the state which has given them so much.
I do not think that argument particularly works or is even particularly valid. The independent schools if pressured could say that they are not interested in accepting the business rate relief and the charitable status. What do you do then? Go back to square one? They might say that the concession they are getting by virtue of not having to pay business rates is so small that it is not worth the bother. What do we do then? Are they completely exempted from all the obligations that they have to state schools? I suggest that to couch the argument in terms of a contractual quid pro quo is dangerous for both independent schools and state schools.
We should rather think in the following terms. First, independent schools by virtue of the fact that they are outstanding and getting wonderful results have certain moral obligations to their fellow citizens. I emphasise the importance of moral obligation because it cannot be denied that those schools that have the resources and the capacity ought to be able to contribute to those which have fewer resources and less capacity.
I also think of the argument articulated in the language of enlightened self-interest. If the distance between state schools and independent schools remains as large then there is going to be resentment and constant hatred for independent schools, and that is not the climate in which independent schools will be able to function. There is also crude self-interest, because independent schools are increasingly becoming homes for the children of foreigners. I was told recently that the number of overseas nationals, especially Chinese and others, whose children are admitted to our schools, either here or in their campuses abroad, is much larger than it used to be—about 33% larger over the past five years. If this is the situation they are going to be reduced to then it is rather important that they should think in terms of collaborating with state schools in our country.
The question therefore is to articulate why it is important that the two sets of schools should be able to co-operate. I think they can co-operate at various levels, as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, pointed out, and I want to add one or two other ideas. They can lend their staff, especially in minority subjects; provide access to facilities—for example, in science labs, sports facilities, or music; extend a larger number of scholarships than they have done so far; provide teaching, coaching and career advice; and share best practices. These are some of the ways that independent schools can help state ones; there are many others.
Let us remember one important thing. The two sets of schools are never going to be complete partners. Rivalry is built into their structure. Independent schools are in the business of recruiting fee-paying pupils, and fee-paying schools are decidedly what state schools are not. Given that there is this rivalry and that independent schools are going to be looking for children who are prepared to pay, why should they raise the standards of state schools? If the standards are raised to a high level, why would anybody want to go to independent schools? On the continent of Europe, in France and Germany, very few students go to independent schools, because state schools are considered sufficient. I am not saying that it is in the interest of independent schools to impoverish or keep state schools parasitic on them, but I emphasise that there is a relationship of patron and client. It is not a relationship of equals, but has an element of rivalry. Consistent with that, we should certainly think of collaboration between the two, but not raise our expectations too high.
My Lords, when I put my name down for this debate, I wondered whether I was getting into very deep water. I can now confirm that I am at least up to my waist. When we talk about independent schools assisting the state sector, we are talking about something that has happened, or where there has been a far higher degree of interaction than most people realise. I do not know whether it is an advantage, but I have the experience of knowing how, for instance, the private, independent providers have assisted in things such as provision for those with special educational needs. It is also worth noting that certain independent schools have been a resource that has been used, even though that was often in state boarding schools, for those with severe problems who are identified and can get through—and have done a pretty good job in many cases. That is probably because the state system has not provided for those problems.
How do we develop a relationship where somebody is providing a service—and charging, to an extent—for somebody not doing so? As has already been mentioned by virtually everybody today, there is a degree of clash here. Many of the smaller schools that did it have disappeared as provision got slightly better in the state sector. That is a conflict. More specialist providers, for people who have failed within the state system, still have a role—the recovery centre, effectively. How do we take that expertise and use it?
Another subject is sport, although the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has beaten me to that. It is something of a scandal that, if you want to win an Olympic medal, you can up your chances by going to an independent school. It might be that most of the sports that are attracting the mainstream and are easy to access do not have very high Olympic status—football being the classic with rugby league following rapidly. If you have schools that are not going on to that pathway, how do we provide support and help? If we are not going to start sending people on sporting excellence education pathways, how do we provide the assistance? Asking the independent schools, “What are you doing that identifies here?”, and trying to bring that identification process into the state system would be very interesting. We also need to identify that some of these answers will not be readily available if you are in a state school. In the sporting world, you will be much better off if that independent school talks to the school and the local sports clubs. You are not identifying someone with raw talent; technically, you are identifying someone who enjoys training. That is much more important in the modern sporting environment. Roy of the Rovers kicking a ball around the pitch has gone, certainly if he wants to be an international-quality sprinter.
How can we bring the expertise in this environment forward to help in this sector? If we are to take over and help to run schools, which from what I have read has not been a totally successful experience so far, how can we get this expertise brought in? To go back to special educational needs, for instance, are those with less severe needs better dealt with by the independent sector? What if they go to a state-run school that is bigger, with more people, and is being told to be more flexible, perhaps by allowing better technology into the classroom? How does that fit into a classroom? I will not go into a diatribe about SATs and the English-language testing that goes on for dyslexics at the moment—I shall save that delight for the Minister on another day—but how do you build flexibility into the current very regimented system? How do you apply that?
These are difficult tasks. If we find a way forward, that is great, but if we cannot, what are we doing? Are we encouraging the independent sector simply to offer more bursaries? That might help some individuals, but will it help the majority of schools? No. How are we to get that interaction and expertise through? If the Minister has good examples of pathways that bring in expertise in general fields to the places where we know we do not do that well—in the state sector especially, as the independent sector does better—I am all ears.
It is the identification of how to apply the extra information and expertise to these schools that will be very interesting. If we do that, I hope we will establish a path that in a short time does not need the independent sector. That brings us right back around to the competition level. I speak with some knowledge on this: you do not go to the independent sector if you think you will get the service in the state sector. Good state schools often have very careful application processes for getting you in there—that is, where you live and house prices. If we can ensure that we have this identification pathway going through, we are doing something good here. If we do not, it will be window dressing.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lexden for instigating this debate. I remind noble Lords of my education interests in the register.
I entirely support independent schools giving assistance and advice to schools in the state sector. My noble friend and other noble Lords have given examples of good practice in this area. However, I have several concerns. I would want to be sure that independent schools did not feel under pressure to join in. My noble friend’s speech today has caused me some anxiety, because charitable status could be in danger if schools do not co-operate with the Government’s wishes. Some are fearful that the reporting procedures could lead to the construction of a league table of achievement in the help they are able to give to the state sector.
At the moment, in principle, the removal of charitable status means that a school’s assets could be sequestered and given to another charity. That is unlikely to happen, as we know, but such a threat is still felt by independent schools to be in the air.
Charitable status brings with it certain fiscal advantages—usually cut-price local taxes, exemption from corporation taxes and the ability to obtain gift aid on donations towards certain charitable ends, although not of course on fee income. However, that is not the huge subsidy that some newspapers seem to imagine; independent school governors estimate that those tax advantages account for about 3% of income. There can be few schools which do not spend this on pupils from homes that cannot afford fees. Nationally, charitable status brings independent schools an annual notional tax saving of some £100 million; however, research suggests that they spend more than £260 million on bursaries—bringing it to the sum that my noble friend mentioned.
Independent schools have to tread carefully when assisting state schools. First, they have to reassure fee-paying parents that such a charitable effort is worth while and the cost of it unlikely to diminish their own children’s education; secondly, they have to be extremely careful not to give the appearance of patronage. However, if handled carefully, all this can be extremely beneficial. I have seen wonderful projects involving the teaching of reading by independent school sixth-formers at local primaries, from which the older students gained as much as the younger ones. A good number of cadet units in independent schools have been instrumental in setting up CCF companies in local secondaries. In several cases these now meet as joint forces.
We have heard a great deal in the past, although little today, about charitable independent schools being able to prove public benefit. A landmark judicial review quite properly defined such benefit rather more liberally than the then chairman of the Charity Commission had promulgated. It is true, however, that the modern conception of charity somehow sits uncomfortably with independent schools, which are often seen, usually unfairly, as the preserve of the wealthy. This was guyed really rather well by Ian Hislop in a spoof charity appeal in which he said, “A gift of only £50 will buy a boater for Henrietta”.
On 12 September last year, I asked the Minister whether independent schools that wish to do so will be able to opt out of charitable status and thereby demit the 3% or 4% of their income. His reply was that they will. This is good news, and I suggest that the law could assist those who so wished to opt out by allowing them to keep their current assets and be given the status of what I believe in Scotland are public trusts with no tax advantages. I asked because the governing bodies of independent schools—I was for some years the chairman of one—tend to take a very long-term view. Many of them have survived for hundreds of years by so doing. Threatened in the not-too-distant past by the Charity Commission, some have told me that they fear that threat will someday come again and that they would value being able to opt out, even if it meant the loss of fiscal advantages. Most charitable schools in the independent sector will doubtless wish to remain as charities, with the advantages and possible disadvantages brought by this, but those that do not should, in my view, have the option.
There is one great gift that schools in the private sector can give to the state sector, a gift that costs them nothing. It is the example they set, especially in the use of their independence. Each is a separate, autonomous corporate body; even those schools in groups such as the Woodard Foundation retain their clear individuality. Decisions about financial priorities, staffing, curriculum, buildings and plant are made by the governors and professionals on the spot, without reference to any local or national bureaucracies. This was the freedom that first the grant-maintained schools movement of the 1990s and then its successor, the academies programme, promised state schools and there is no better way of raising standards in them. There is every possible good reason for state and independent schools to work closely together, but it must be made very clear that such arrangements are purely voluntary on both sides.
My Lords, I declare my interests: I am chair of a musical education charity, Voces Cantabiles Music, and my wife is a director of a multi-academy trust in Bradford.
I became involved in this issue partly because I had to answer for charities and I worked with charities when in the coalition Government, but I also followed the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, in tabling an amendment to the charities Bill in 2015. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has asked me to give his apologies today as he is unfortunately not able to be with us as he has to leave for a foreign visit this afternoon.
Since then, the situation has moved on. The Prime Minister made an astonishingly strong speech last September:
“Through their charitable status, private schools collectively reduce their tax bills by millions every year. And I want to … enact a tougher test on the amount of public benefit required”.
She noted that,
“these schools have become more and more divorced from normal life”,
with a rapidly rising percentage of pupils with rich parents from overseas countries.
Paragraph 7 of last September’s consultation document, referring to independent schools, states:
“We should expect these schools to assist the state-funded sector more directly … by building capacity in the sector”.
A later paragraph states that,
“these requirements will be built into existing agreements, so that … the ability to … maintain the key benefits associated with independent schools’ charitable status, is explicitly linked to doing more”.
If a Labour Government had said that, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph would have been all over it, but I note that this was a Conservative Prime Minister, and I agree with her. The Independent Schools Council has depicted this as a threat: I would call it much more a reminder. If a school is a charity, it should be fulfilling charitable purposes. A great many of our best independent schools were founded as charities and have moved some way from their original objectives at their foundation.
Independent schools have responsibilities, apart from being charities, to the well-being of this country—their corporate social responsibility, if you like—and to their communities. The best independent/state school partnership I have seen, in York, is partly because the independent schools in York are Quaker and have a very strong sense of their social responsibility and of their responsibility to their community in particular.
I am conscious that there is a great deal of variation across England. The situation of independent schools in London and south-east is very different from that in Yorkshire and the north of England. I am also conscious that the partnerships I have seen and heard of depend very much on individual leadership. A good person pushing something does extraordinarily well and then when he or she retires things very often fall away. It is a patchy record, but I welcome the Government’s encouragement of more active engagement. I hope the Minister takes that fully on board.
There is resistance on both sides. We have seen that, and I have heard from people in independent schools about unfortunately or unintentionally giving the impression of being patronising. I have heard from left-wing teachers in state schools that they do not want anything to do with the independent sector, et cetera, but in a number of places, partnership now works extremely well. The one I know best is Westminster Grey Coat—a foundation of two state schools and three independent schools—in which the director of the foundation says very strongly that they have mutual benefit and learn from each other all the way across. I was at Emanuel School the other week for the foundation’s sixth-form essay prize, in which the boys from Westminster City School, a state school, won more prizes than any other school. It was very impressive and pleasing. That is precisely the sort of thing one should be citing.
Social awareness and social integration within our divided national community are part of what this is all about. There is no single model. Different forms of co-operation will fit different communities and different circumstances. The best model is certainly not to sponsor academies or to offer free places, although in some areas where sixth forms are in short supply, experimenting with providing free places for sixth-formers might be part of the way forward. Jointly funded bursaries are not a priority either, although, again, in rural areas for able students one might perhaps experiment. Fundraising for bursaries at independent schools is part of the way forward. Those that have endowments are, in a number of cases—Eton College being the most striking one—funding a number of scholarships of this sort and perhaps more should be done in this way.
There is excellent best practice from, for example, Rugby, Eton, York and Wimbledon: specialised teaching; extra subjects and topics, such as “masterclasses” in York, which I have sat in on; shared music, drama and sport; shared school governorships, as in the model of Rugby and others; and sharing of teaching best practice. This could develop further, with shared careers advice, shared attachments to local employers for work experience, and so on. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, said, there is resistance from parents and governors in what one might call the second division of private schools—I will not name the schools where I have heard this. They say that they have paid good money to buy educational advantage and they do not see why others should share it for free. It is a sentiment that I have heard particularly in Yorkshire, which would probably not surprise noble Lords.
There is a schools partnership across Bradford, but when I was talking to head teachers at state schools there, they said, “That’s fine; if a private or grammar school wants to come and join us it is welcome—but it had better ask first”. In fact, independent schools in the north of England are not as well plugged into this network as one would like. I regret that we do not have as much evidence as possible on what is going on— I look forward to the ISC survey coming out.
I was upset, I have to say, when talking to the head teachers of a number of state schools, to hear them saying things such as, “If I had the spare capacity or the spare money for this, I would love it, but I am more concerned about how I prevent my school going bankrupt in the next three years and how I avoid losing half a dozen teachers because of the squeeze on our budget”. Of course, there are similar pressures on a number of independent schools, particularly those outside the south-east, and boarding schools.
I conclude from this that we are in a changing situation—the structure and situation of independent schools are themselves changing—but we nevertheless want to encourage partnerships of this sort as much as possible. I am glad to see that the Government are doing this and that charitable status—charitable schools—is a part of this. But it is not the only part, because we expect all schools to share the responsibility for what happens in their communities and in our society as a whole.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for sponsoring this debate and pay tribute to him for the pithy way in which he introduced what has been an interesting debate. I may surprise quite a few people, not least in my own party, when I say that I believe that independent schools are currently doing quite a good job in terms of partnership work with maintained schools. That is not to say that more cannot be achieved because it always can, but given that 1,112 schools out of 1,280 members of the Independent Schools Council are already engaged in partnerships in varying forms with state schools, then that at the very least demonstrates a willingness to engage. That engagement is of course by both sectors because, as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, said, there is value that both can derive from these partnerships.
The facilities that private schools have can be of particular benefit; by that I mean not just the recreational facilities referred to by noble Lords, but teachers specialising in the creative arts, from the performing arts to fine art, music tuition to film and media. All too rarely do maintained schools, or academies for that matter, have anything like the range of subjects available in the independent sector and it is right that in return for the benefits of charitable status, private schools should make a contribution in whatever way they can. It is to be hoped that the traffic is two-way in a physical sense also. While there are benefits for state school pupils attending classes at independent schools in subjects that are perhaps not available in their own school, it must also be of value for teachers in independent schools to visit publicly funded schools not just to impart knowledge and skills but to gain a better understanding of the conditions under which their state sector counterparts operate.
There has been an increase in the amount of crossover activity since the passing of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016, referred to by both the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. That legislation has led to an increase in the extent to which independent schools engage with local communities and state schools to share resources, expertise and facilities. It has also resulted in the development of a website called Schools Together which promotes and encourages partnership working between schools. It now has the added benefit of being a resource to which any school, state or independent, can refer if they want to gain a clearer impression of what kind of joined-up activities can be established.
That was then, but it is fair to say that to a significant extent the landscape changed with the publication last September of what the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, pointedly called the Government’s “remarkable” consultation paper, Schools That Work for Everyone. He talked of the paper’s stated ambition to create an education system that serves not just the privileged few, and I think he exposed the vapidity of the document’s title. I agree with him, but I have a more fundamental complaint about the consultation paper—its very title. I have raised this with the Minister before: to name it Schools That Work for Everyone is a cruel deception because not once in its 36 pages do the words “special educational needs and disabilities”, appear. So whoever it works for, it is not everyone.
The consultation paper was remarkably strident about the independent sector in referring to what was expected of it, adopting a tone that I think everyone noticed was markedly different from that of the aforementioned Charities Act, when the Government were much more sympathetic to private schools. Perhaps the change in approach had its roots in the fact that for the first time ever we have a Prime Minister and a Secretary of State for Education who were both educated at comprehensive schools. Yes, the Prime Minister attended a grammar school, but she was in the privileged position—even though I suspect it may not have seemed that way to her at the time—of experiencing a school making the change from a grammar school to a comprehensive.
While acknowledging that partnership working was under way, the consultation paper came up with the hitherto unknown idea of telling independent schools with the capacity to do so to sponsor academies or set up new free schools and be responsible for ensuring that they were rated good or outstanding within a certain period. Alternatively, they could offer a proportion of places with fully-funded bursaries to those whose families are unable to afford the fees. The Independent Schools Council showed an ability to think outside the box and proposed the creation of up to 10,000 free places in independent schools every year for children for whom those schools would not otherwise be an option. As in many similar situations, though, there was a catch: it would be a jointly funded bursary scheme to which the Government would contribute no more than the cost of a state school place. The independent school places will be available across the age groups and will be non-selective except in terms of ensuring that a child can cope with the independent school’s expectations, although what that may mean was not explained.
Sceptical as to its ability to establish new schools, which of course is not an area in which it has expertise, the ISC offered to,
“work with ministers, regional schools commissioners and others in putting together consortia of suitable and willing independent schools to help co-sponsor new state-funded schools”.
On the basis of the ISC’s proposal, the cost to the taxpayer would be £5,500 per child, roughly the amount that state schools receive annually for a pupil. However, average private school fees are around £15,500, so funding would be subsidised by the private sector by around £80 million a year. That is a sizeable amount to target at state-educated children and should not be dismissed lightly, but it raises the question of just who would benefit from the plan. It sounds remarkably similar to the assisted places scheme in the 1980s and 1990s which required children to pass ability tests. As a result it did not help poor children so much as bright children who happened to be poor. The ISC claimed that the scheme would be non-selective, but if so, how will children moving from the state sector to the independent sector be chosen? Bright children tend to do well wherever they are educated, and creaming off the top of the state sector, as grammar schools do, achieves little more than those left behind being denied the benefit of learning beside and gaining from their more able classroom colleagues. That is why comprehensive education was introduced and despite its current problems, many of which I remind the Minister could be solved by adequate funding, its benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
We recognise that the Independent Schools Council has made meaningful proposals in this regard, but we remain sceptical about the contention that independent schools can have much of a direct impact on standards of education in state schools. Private schools are academically successful largely because they educate the children of the wealthiest section of society who have enormous social capital. Private schools can afford to sustain small class sizes, have the benefit of substantial resources to support their pupils’ education, and pay staff salaries with which the state sector often cannot compete. There can be no comparison with the challenges that state comprehensive schools face, particularly those serving the most disadvantaged communities.
For that reason, while it is understandable that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State believe that the independent sector should be asked to justify the benefits of their charitable status, we believe that establishing new schools or sponsoring academies is not the way to do so. On the other hand, partnership working should continue to expand, to the benefit of both sectors.
My Lords, I am very pleased to answer this Question for Short Debate. It is timely that the Committee considers this matter. There has been considerable progress, but the Government want a lot more partnership between state schools and the independent sector. We want that growth to reflect a new attitude towards the role that the independent sector can play in educating our nation’s children. As a Minister, I have seen many excellent examples of such partnerships, and the successful ones always contain some key ingredients: enthusiasm on both sides; staff willing to play their part; mutual benefit, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said; and a focus on outcomes for pupils. Although partnerships can have other benefits, such as helping a school to meet its charitable status and its public benefit test, the primary aim of partnership must always be improvement in pupil outcomes.
We live in a highly divided and immobile society. Alan Milburn tells us that we live in the most socially immobile society in the developed world. As the Sutton Trust has told us repeatedly, 7% of the population is educated privately and gets nearly 60% of the top jobs in our country. As has already been mentioned, they are massively overrepresented in sport, in our Olympians, in music and in many of the top professions. What is more, because those pupils have these top jobs when they grow up, they are much more likely to exercise their perfect right to send their own children to private schools. It means that the vast majority of the people at the top of our big employers in this country have no direct or indirect experience of the state sector at all. This has undoubtedly contributed to a situation where, historically, our state sector has lagged behind, because a considerable proportion of customers who would otherwise have been highly demanding, vociferous and influential have been absent.
It cannot be right that we have such a divided society. This is not just, or mainly, about money. It is about all of us—independent schools, universities and employers—doing more to build a much more integrated and united society, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said. That is why our consultation paper, Schools That Work for Everyone, starts from the expectation that all children in England will have a good school place, and that the independent sector, among others, will play its full part in achieving our aim, both by improving access to schools for those unable to pay full fees and by widening its partnership activity. In the consultation paper we put forward some suggestions as to how that should be encouraged and achieved. We have had an enthusiastic response. We will be publishing a full analysis of responses and setting out the Government’s preferred way forward in the spring. I cannot anticipate what the document will say. However, I shall identify some of the themes we intend to pick up from the responses. It is only right, however, that I acknowledge the degree of partnership which is already taking place.
What we include in the term “partnership” is very wide. At one end of the spectrum are small-scale partnerships, sometimes fired by a single teacher’s enthusiasm, which might allow for pupils from a maintained school to take a subject otherwise unavailable. We funded start-up costs for several of these at primary level in 2014-15. Many partnerships are much more ambitious—for example, the wide-ranging and highly impressive partnership I have seen for myself at King’s, Wimbledon. At the other end of the spectrum are initiatives which affect or create whole institutions—for example, the creation by Eton College of Holyport free school, which is partly boarding; the support by Brighton College of the London Academy of Excellence in Newham, and now by Highgate for LAE 2 at Tottenham; and Harris Westminster. Only this morning I visited Lancot Challenger Academy, Dunstable, in the Challenger MAT. To champion character in the state sector, it has been working with schools such as the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle, Ashford School and Shrewsbury School to build capacity in this vital area of school life. Many academy sponsors, to pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, are bringing many of the curricular and extra-curricular practices of the independent sector to their schools.
As my noble friend Lord Lexden said, independent schools provide many bursaries. I saw this myself when for many years I was a trustee of the Eastside Young Leaders Academy in Newham, an after-school club looking after, at any one time, more than 100 black boys and now some girls right on the edge of exclusions from school. We were approached by Patrick Derham, who was then the head of Rugby School, to take two of our boys as boarders. We initially thought that this was a bit of mission creep but we thought, why not? It was a great success and the academy has now sent more than 100 boys and girls to private schools around the country.
I am very keen to encourage local authorities to use both independent and state boarding schools for pupils on the edge of care. We have an active programme under way in the department, very ably run by Colin Morrison, called the Boarding School Partnerships. It encourages local authorities to do this because they can often be fully funded by bursaries. On the point of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, we have approved nearly 50 new, special state schools, backed by good sponsors under the free schools programme.
As my noble friend Lord Lexden and the noble Lord, Lord Watson, have mentioned, so greatly has the Independent/State Schools Partnership grown that it now has its own website. With seed corn funding, we set up this website so that information on projects would spread and help generate further initiatives. As my noble friend has said, as of last week, the Schools Together website has nearly 1,600 projects on it. Although not all are involved in both state and independent schools, we welcome them all.
Each year, however, the Independent Schools Council conducts its census and asks its member schools, which educate around 85% of pupils in the independent sector—although they are only about half the schools, as my noble friend mentioned—about the partnership work they do. The results of the 2017 census are not yet available, but I imagine they will show a further advance on the 1,100 ISC schools that in 2016 were in some form of partnership with the state sector.
As my noble friend Lord Lexden and the noble Lord, Lord Watson, mentioned, the Charity Commission will have access to the ISC’s 2017 census data about the extent of partnerships later this year. These data will enable analysis of whether partnership activity has increased since the guidance was revised and the Schools Together website was created. Before commissioning research, the Charity Commission will review its plans in the light of any changes made by the Government following their consultation on the document Schools that Work for Everyone.
The partnership between state and independent schools is alive and well. Some people have understandably asked why, in that case, Schools that Work for Everyone not only asked independent schools to do more but suggested that if they do not various sanctions might be deployed.
It is worth setting out some of the principles on which we are considering responses and the best way forward. First, it remains our position—set out in debate last year on the charities and social investment Bill—that a partnership works best when it is the result of genuine enthusiasm, co-operation and willingness on both sides, and meets needs on both sides. This means that in taking forward the consultation proposals, we are looking for ideas and responses that will encourage and support partnership to make it grow in volume and effectiveness. Secondly, although many independent schools are engaged, that is not always the case. We want to ensure that whatever system we arrive at brings pressure to bear on those schools that have the capacity and capability to do something but, for whatever reason, do not see it as part of their role. Despite the excellent work already going on and what my noble friend Lord Lexden said, there clearly are schools that could do something or more but do not. The independent charity sector enjoys many freedoms and privileges and it is only right that all schools within it should recognise their wider obligations to society.
Finally, my noble friend Lord Lexden said that independent schools vary considerably in size and capabilities. We are naturally conscious that some independent schools genuinely do not have the capacity to enter into useful partnership with a state school. They may have poor standards or facilities or could be under regulatory action designed to improve them. It is right that such schools concentrate on putting their own house in order and we do not intend to do anything to push them into pointless partnership arrangements before they are ready.
In closing, I assure your Lordships that we want to build on what has already been achieved and enable the independent schools sector to play the greatest possible role through sensible co-operation and partnership, so that we really do have schools that work for everyone.
Committee adjourned at 5.54 pm.