The conversation took place on a balcony in the south of France near Perpignan this summer. The view was beautiful and I’m pretty sure we enjoying some local wine. My husband and I, both teachers at a smallish, minor public school in the home counties, were chatting with our very good friend, a head teacher of a large successful state school in a seaside town. He told us that a prestigious local public school had approached him offering partnership and he wasn’t keen. He paused and both husband and I in that moment quickly ran over in our minds what we thought our friend could get out of this offer…
True the small class sizes couldn’t be shared. I can give my GCSE and A level classes possibly double the essay writing practice because the class sizes mean marking is manageable. We can keep better tabs on under performing kids. No KS3 and GCSE classes are shared between teachers as is common the state sector so we have the chance to really know the kids we teach.
However, parents pay the exorbitant public school fees as much for other expensive benefits, more easily shared:
In sport we have specialist coaches of national and even Olympic standard. Our facilities are top notch, extensive and beautifully maintained by a dedicated team of grounds staff. We put out more than 35 teams a week in a wide range of sports and our teachers (though mostly ordinary academic subject teachers) have enormous coaching experience. In some sports we regularly win national championships. Excellence in sport is prioritised as is getting every single child, even those in the U14Fs, involved in sport to a good level.
In music we have a department of 10 professional musicians, many of whom perform regularly, some at international level. They have a dedicated music school and organise perhaps 15 concerts for school musicians a term as well as inviting nationally and internationally recognised performers to the school, around eight times a year. There is choral music to a superb level and a director of music who knows how to get a whole school to sing its heart out together in chapel.
I know how hard state schools find it to get some specialist teachers in subjects like physics. We have well qualified specialists. Then there is our enrichment programme that includes high profile visiting speakers with fascinating stories to tell. Enrichment also comes from the obsessively well organised Oxbridge programme. How many students get into good universities is a the kind of measure our parents are interested in. We make sure our kids get the very best advice and help to maximise their chances.
I know that if a local school approached us asking for help starting a rugby team we would be happy to get a partnership going. If they wanted their music students to get to some of our concerts or do a joint choir we would be interested. Once a partnership had started we have so much to share. You want advice on how we maximise our students’ chances at top universities? Sure thing!
So what did our friend reluctantly come up with? Perhaps this prestigious public school could help them with ‘inclusion of FSM children’?
He said something like that anyway. My husband and I didn’t even recognise the terminology. Whatever he had in mind I’m sure the state sector could help us far more than we them. It sounded like one of many areas where we could learn from our state school colleagues.
Truth be told we often invite local schools to our events. They pretty much never come. Our classics teacher offered to run Latin classes in local schools and most said no, one even pointed out it was elitist and ‘not what parents would want’. A local secondary did say yes and the teacher taught Latin there to GCSE. There was so much demand that places had to be limited.
When Tristram Hunt gave his speech on private/state cooperation my reaction was simply, ‘they don’t want what we have to offer’. I’m not at all sure it is just about a lack of resources because some state schools do have flourishing music or sports departments. There is no reason to think such schools need our help. However, my husband was at COUNTY level school biathlon championships a few Sundays ago and there was just ONE state school present. One state school teacher without support, with a bevy of very keen athletes and very appreciative parents. Good for her – but so sad.
My school values participation and excellence, academically and in sport, music and drama. I think that is because that is how our success is measured. There is no shortage of will to share our facilities and expertise. However, I think state school teachers have been made very busy chasing very different targets.