Strength in numbers

Photo: iStock.com/shironosov

Parents who have opted for an independent school have no doubt found themselves challenged to justify the decision in an awkward social situation. Julie Robinson highlights the findings of a report on the value of independent schools.

As parents who have opted to send a child to an independent school, you have no doubt at some point found yourselves in an awkward social situation, challenged to justify your decision. What's wrong with the local primary school? Why are you buying privilege for your child? Or perhaps the challenge was a more ideological one: the claim that independent schools do nothing to help education or society and should therefore be closed.

When faced with these kind of challenges, it can be hard to know how best to respond. Sending your child to an independent school is not about 'buying privilege'; it is about giving your child the best possible start in life and in a setting where you feel, as a parent, they will be happy and therefore thrive. The detractors will always see this exercise in parental choice in a negative light because independent education requires the payment of fees and will argue it is therefore exclusive. But to do so is to overlook the fact that currently a third of pupils at our schools benefit from reduced fees, with almost £400 million provided in bursary provision.

Whilst the social justice agenda can be emotive, the notion that the sector does nothing to help education in a wider sense is just plain wrong. The specialist provision at ISC schools means that our country's education offering is broader and has greater capacity than it would otherwise. For example, classics teaching would have ended as an option in the state sector if it were not for independent schools. This is a perfect example of where the independent and state work together on teaching partnerships. A high proportion of our schools offer specialisms which are thin on the ground in the state sector: for very able pupils, SEN, music and dance, singing and boarding.

Julie Robinson is Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Schools Council (ISC).