Will Free Schools, or Independent Schools, be the great Public Schools of the Future?
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Toby Young (Educator – West London Free School)
Every child deserves to have a classical, liberal education regardless of their ability. Mr. Young defines a liberal education as introducing children to the best that has been thought and said throughout the course of history, accompanied by art, music, drama and sports activities.
He states that independent school pupils are statistically less likely to get into a Russell Group university, partly because universities seek to charge the full amount for admissions fees but can only do so if they can show that they are broadening access. One of the ways for them to do so is to show that the percentage of applicants from the state school sector is increasing each year.
Some studies showed that of pupils who achieved the same grades at A levels, the pupils who came from state schools were more likely to attain First Class Honours or a 2:1 at University. One theory as to why that may be case is that students from independent schools are lazier and feel they can fall back onto their social networks, parent’s connections and generally don’t try as hard at university.
Mr. Young believes that parents are being misled when it comes to independent schools. Independent schools have produced some of the greatest leaders of our time and some parents fall into the trap of believing that by sending their children to these schools, they may also turn into great leaders of the future. Mr. Young is sceptical as to how much impact a school can have in the development of children’s characters. He believes that, to a great extent, those traits are “set in stone” from a very early age. He references the “Marshmallow Test”, a psychological test usually performed on children at around the age of three. During this test, a child is told that they can have a marshmallow now or, if they wait 15 minutes, they could have two. He goes on to say that, overwhelmingly, children who choose to wait, have developed a sense of delayed gratification and tend to do better over the course of their lives according to variety of different metrics. He argues that West London Free School has a lot of similar systems in place to that of schools like Harrow, for example, The House systems, prefects and a rich program of extra-curricular activities, however he does not believe that any of those things truly transforms a pupil’s character and that any school that claims to do so should be treated with scepticism. West London Free School is a non-selective school, but he also expects that all of the pupils should be able to follow the same academically rigorous curriculum regardless of their starting point.
Parents should be able to choose which schools they send their children to. Mr . Young’s objective during the show was effectively to persuade parents that their children would be better off with a state school education and that sending their children to independent schools would be a waste of money. He wants schools to be able to compete against each other in a level playing field and wants to be able to show parents that, if all things were equal, their children would be better off going to a good state school than a good independent school.
Jim Hawkins (Head Master of Harrow)
In terms of access to universities, it is indeed true that Russell group universities and other elite universities are particularly conscious of the pressures put on them to demonstrate social mobility. However he does believe that the advantages of coming through an independent school system far outweigh its disadvantages.
The argument of independent schools not providing good value for money should be treated with caution, because when you actually look at the grade outcomes of independent school, they are very good. The problem has been with writers giving misleading statistics when comparing independent and state schools.
The brightest children will be able to achieve exceptional results whichever school they go to, through their own hard work and determination. So it is important to debate how character development differs between pupils who attend state schools and independent schools. As for the argument that independent school pupils are less likely to attain a 1st or 2:1 At university, it could be the case that some these pupils are so thoroughly engrossed with the extra-curricular aspects university life that, even though they may have achieved lower grades, they may be more rounded in their character development and end up being more employable than other students. Looking at how a Harrow School pupil is doing in ten or twenty years time in terms of their life and career, whether they are leaders or have an impact on society, that is something that could be directly attributed to Harrow and is more representative of the kind education one can get at Harrow.
At Harrow, they use internal systems to assess the development of pupils’ character. They have specially devised online tests that assess engagement and self-awareness, helping to find out which areas they need to work on and helping to highlight their development as an individual. As a further example of character-building activities, he talks of the annual Long Ducker Race, a 10-mile charity run that pupils of Harrow can run every year. Through this run, and also the training required to undertake it, the pupils can learn a lot about themselves, their resilience, determination and selflessness. He believes it should be relatively clear how such an event can have a positive effect on a pupil’s character and how it can benefit them in the long run.
At Harrow, they deliberately take in a mix of pupils with varying levels of academic ability because they see the potential in boys with different talents and want to help them with their development. They do however try to select pupils who can fully embrace the education and facilities that Harrow has to offer. Mr. Hawkins wants to clear up a popular misrepresentation that independent schools like Harrow only have exceptional facilities because they can charge such expensive admission fees. However, in reality, the fees cover the normal operating costs of the school and anything that is built as a major capital project is facilitated by fundraising.
Mr. Hawkins believes that in the future will we still have great independent and public schools as we do now. We will also have a great, ever-improving state sector, and he hopes in the future there will be even greater communication and collaboration between state and independent schools, along with passionate educators to support them.