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Focus Report TETRA IMAGES/CORBIS

Boarding cool

3 The A-level rivals

4-5

Boom in bursaries

7 Friday March 25 2011


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THE TIMES Friday March 25 2011

Independent schools

Independent schools

The grand tradition that has a class for everyone Parents are spoilt for choice in the search for the right school, says Simon Midgley

I

ndependent schools. The words bring to mind the great public schools of Eton, Marlborough or Harrow, the academic hot houses of Westminster, Winchester and St Paul’s and the bluestocking, all-female redoubts of Benenden, Wycombe Abbey and Cheltenham Ladies’ College. But, in truth, independent schools come in all shapes and sizes: day or boarding, single sex or coeducational, preparatory or secondary, urban or rural, prohibitively expensive or relatively cheap — the variety is legion. Independent schools are those for which parents pay fees not funded by the State, and that are not subject to local or central government control. Parents choose to send their children to such schools for a plethora of reasons — the social cachet of attending Fettes College, Haileybury or

Roedean, the academic excellence of Oxford High School for Girls, Radley or Manchester Grammar School, or the religious ethos of Ampleforth, Stonyhurst or West Buckland. The private sector offers something for everyone. You want your children to specialise in the arts, music or drama? Consider the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, the Yehudi Menuhin School or Wells Cathedral School. Your children want to serve in the Army? How about Welbeck, the defence sixth-form college? Special needs? No problem — what about Sibford, a dyslexia-friendly Quaker school catering for those who need special support; Standbridge Earls, catering for those with specific learning difficulties, or New College Worcester, an international school that specialises in educating the blind and partially sighted. Then there are the so-called progressive schools: Bedales, no uniform and everyone on first-name terms; St Christopher (Letchworth), the Garden City school, which caters for pupils from infancy to adulthood, and Abbotsholme, in Staffordshire, which has its own working farm. Many such schools pride themselves on their extracurricular activities — Duke of Edinburgh awards, Combined Cadet Force military train-

ing, community service, expeditions to exotic places, young enterprise groups, and sports such as rugby, cricket and hockey. Athletics and gymnastics are also very popular and extracurricular music, drama and art are invariably strong. These schools educate some 7 per cent of the UK school population, about 620,000 pupils. Most of the 2,600 independent schools are junior schools. About 13 per cent of all independent pupils are boarders, with about 700 schools offering such an option. Preparatory schools — junior schools that prepare pupils for entry into senior schools at 11 or 13 — cater for pupils aged 7 or 8 to 13, senior schools for those between the ages of 11 or 13 and 16 to 18. Most independent schools use the same entrance exam — the Common Entrance set by the Independent Schools Examinations Board — with the papers marked by the senior school for which the child is entered. Each school has its own pass mark that reflects the demand for places. If you fail to gain entry to your first choice, the scripts are automatically forwarded to your second choice. The exam is taken at the age of 11 or 13. Subjects tested at 11 are English, maths and science. At 13 there may also be papers in languages, history,

GETTY IMAGES

To board or not to board? Flexibility helps families to avoid the painful question, writes

Jenny Knight

T Rugby union is one of the sports on which schools pride themselves

geography and religious studies. Many schools also set their own entrance exams. Fees can range from £2,700 to £8,000 a term for day secondary school pupils and £5,000 to £9,500 a term for boarders. Eton, Gordonstoun and Wycombe Abbey are among the most expensive boarding schools. Among the most expensive day schools are Highgate School, King’s College School and St Paul’s Girls’. Help to meet the cost is available through an increasing number of

bursaries. Those seeking something really grand might consider Wellington College in Berkshire — it has its own 400-acre estate, golf course and Royal Charter, and Buckingham Palace still approves its governors. Founded in 1853 by public subscription in memory of the Duke of Wellington, traditionally it has strong links with the Army. While many Wellingtonians have gone on to be distinguished soldiers, former pupils also include Sebastian Faulks, the novelist, and Will Young, the pop singer.

he agonised debate about boarding versus day school is one that gives fewer parents sleepless nights nowadays, as schools increasingly offer flexible arrangements. The days when children were sent away for a term, with only a weekly letter to reassure parents, are long gone. Now the model at Seaford College, West Sussex, where children can dip in and out of boarding, is widespread. Toby Mullins, the headmaster, says: “Over the past ten years we have responded to parents’ wishes by moving to a flexible system with a combination of day school and boarding. The majority of our boarders do Monday to Friday but some children stop just one or two days a week to reduce travelling time. If there is availability they can stay overnight with 24 hours’ notice. “The beauty is that it allows

children to grow into boarding. It suits children who are gregarious, while others are not so keen. By the time they have reached the sixth form, most board. Obviously it is cheaper to be a day pupil but as a sort of loss leader we allow day pupils full access to our Saturday activities, which include golf, climbing, canoeing and mountain biking. Day pupils also get the benefit of longer days. Whereas most schools finish at about 4pm, we go on to 6pm most days.” Hilary Moriarty, the national director of the Boarding Schools’ Association, adds: “Boarding or day is the most important ‘horses for courses’ choice we make for our children.” While some children pine for home comforts, others thrive in the company of other children their own age. Moriarty adds: “In today’s world where lots of parents work hard, leave home early and get back late, boarding can be a godsend. Parents know their children are safe with good friends and lots to do. The old image of Mum who collected the children at the school gates, helped them to make fairy cakes and then supervised homework, is dwindling. “And boarding schools have changed. They are better attuned to children’s comfort and the children are no longer cut off from contact with home — to the extent that if they don’t like the fish for dinner they

OCEAN/CORBIS

The image of mothers collecting their children at the gates is fading

have texted their parents to report that within the hour.” Day schools also report adapting their arrangements to help busy parents, by providing school buses, giving breakfast to earlycomers and organising after-school clubs for children whose parents work late. The choice between day and

boarding is often decided by geography and cost. For parents who work abroad, full boarding is often the only choice. Jo Lindsay, whose husband is a lieutenant-corporal with the Army in Belize, decided that her two youngest children should board at the age of 7 rather than be subjected to frequent changes of school. “We

are fortunate that our three children are happy. They come to Belize for the holidays three times a year and I come back to the UK every half-term. “The children get so much out of it. Alec, 12, who is at Sunningdale School in Berkshire, has friends on tap who can play football and cricket with him. Tess, now 9, adores being at Leaden Hall in Salisbury. She’s never been upset when we leave her. “I think boarding makes them more responsible because from an early age they don’t have mummy to see they have their pencil case and that they have done their homework. It also makes them more understanding of other children. They develop camaraderie and are much more confident than others their age.” Julie Lodrick, the headmistress of The Mount School in York, has seen a shift from the simple choice between day or boarding to the flexible approach that offers full boarding, weekly or occasional. Day school pupils can join colleagues for breakfast and also stay for supper. “Weekly boarding suits people for lots of reasons,” she says. “When parents work long hours they can get everything done in the week and devote the weekends to their children. Boarding gives parents peace of mind, it frees both adults and children from daily journeys and gives the older girls more time to study in a structured environment.”


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THE TIMES Friday March 25 2011

Independent schools

Independent schools

The grand tradition that has a class for everyone Parents are spoilt for choice in the search for the right school, says Simon Midgley

I

ndependent schools. The words bring to mind the great public schools of Eton, Marlborough or Harrow, the academic hot houses of Westminster, Winchester and St Paul’s and the bluestocking, all-female redoubts of Benenden, Wycombe Abbey and Cheltenham Ladies’ College. But, in truth, independent schools come in all shapes and sizes: day or boarding, single sex or coeducational, preparatory or secondary, urban or rural, prohibitively expensive or relatively cheap — the variety is legion. Independent schools are those for which parents pay fees not funded by the State, and that are not subject to local or central government control. Parents choose to send their children to such schools for a plethora of reasons — the social cachet of attending Fettes College, Haileybury or

Roedean, the academic excellence of Oxford High School for Girls, Radley or Manchester Grammar School, or the religious ethos of Ampleforth, Stonyhurst or West Buckland. The private sector offers something for everyone. You want your children to specialise in the arts, music or drama? Consider the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, the Yehudi Menuhin School or Wells Cathedral School. Your children want to serve in the Army? How about Welbeck, the defence sixth-form college? Special needs? No problem — what about Sibford, a dyslexia-friendly Quaker school catering for those who need special support; Standbridge Earls, catering for those with specific learning difficulties, or New College Worcester, an international school that specialises in educating the blind and partially sighted. Then there are the so-called progressive schools: Bedales, no uniform and everyone on first-name terms; St Christopher (Letchworth), the Garden City school, which caters for pupils from infancy to adulthood, and Abbotsholme, in Staffordshire, which has its own working farm. Many such schools pride themselves on their extracurricular activities — Duke of Edinburgh awards, Combined Cadet Force military train-

ing, community service, expeditions to exotic places, young enterprise groups, and sports such as rugby, cricket and hockey. Athletics and gymnastics are also very popular and extracurricular music, drama and art are invariably strong. These schools educate some 7 per cent of the UK school population, about 620,000 pupils. Most of the 2,600 independent schools are junior schools. About 13 per cent of all independent pupils are boarders, with about 700 schools offering such an option. Preparatory schools — junior schools that prepare pupils for entry into senior schools at 11 or 13 — cater for pupils aged 7 or 8 to 13, senior schools for those between the ages of 11 or 13 and 16 to 18. Most independent schools use the same entrance exam — the Common Entrance set by the Independent Schools Examinations Board — with the papers marked by the senior school for which the child is entered. Each school has its own pass mark that reflects the demand for places. If you fail to gain entry to your first choice, the scripts are automatically forwarded to your second choice. The exam is taken at the age of 11 or 13. Subjects tested at 11 are English, maths and science. At 13 there may also be papers in languages, history,

GETTY IMAGES

To board or not to board? Flexibility helps families to avoid the painful question, writes

Jenny Knight

T Rugby union is one of the sports on which schools pride themselves

geography and religious studies. Many schools also set their own entrance exams. Fees can range from £2,700 to £8,000 a term for day secondary school pupils and £5,000 to £9,500 a term for boarders. Eton, Gordonstoun and Wycombe Abbey are among the most expensive boarding schools. Among the most expensive day schools are Highgate School, King’s College School and St Paul’s Girls’. Help to meet the cost is available through an increasing number of

bursaries. Those seeking something really grand might consider Wellington College in Berkshire — it has its own 400-acre estate, golf course and Royal Charter, and Buckingham Palace still approves its governors. Founded in 1853 by public subscription in memory of the Duke of Wellington, traditionally it has strong links with the Army. While many Wellingtonians have gone on to be distinguished soldiers, former pupils also include Sebastian Faulks, the novelist, and Will Young, the pop singer.

he agonised debate about boarding versus day school is one that gives fewer parents sleepless nights nowadays, as schools increasingly offer flexible arrangements. The days when children were sent away for a term, with only a weekly letter to reassure parents, are long gone. Now the model at Seaford College, West Sussex, where children can dip in and out of boarding, is widespread. Toby Mullins, the headmaster, says: “Over the past ten years we have responded to parents’ wishes by moving to a flexible system with a combination of day school and boarding. The majority of our boarders do Monday to Friday but some children stop just one or two days a week to reduce travelling time. If there is availability they can stay overnight with 24 hours’ notice. “The beauty is that it allows

children to grow into boarding. It suits children who are gregarious, while others are not so keen. By the time they have reached the sixth form, most board. Obviously it is cheaper to be a day pupil but as a sort of loss leader we allow day pupils full access to our Saturday activities, which include golf, climbing, canoeing and mountain biking. Day pupils also get the benefit of longer days. Whereas most schools finish at about 4pm, we go on to 6pm most days.” Hilary Moriarty, the national director of the Boarding Schools’ Association, adds: “Boarding or day is the most important ‘horses for courses’ choice we make for our children.” While some children pine for home comforts, others thrive in the company of other children their own age. Moriarty adds: “In today’s world where lots of parents work hard, leave home early and get back late, boarding can be a godsend. Parents know their children are safe with good friends and lots to do. The old image of Mum who collected the children at the school gates, helped them to make fairy cakes and then supervised homework, is dwindling. “And boarding schools have changed. They are better attuned to children’s comfort and the children are no longer cut off from contact with home — to the extent that if they don’t like the fish for dinner they

OCEAN/CORBIS

The image of mothers collecting their children at the gates is fading

have texted their parents to report that within the hour.” Day schools also report adapting their arrangements to help busy parents, by providing school buses, giving breakfast to earlycomers and organising after-school clubs for children whose parents work late. The choice between day and

boarding is often decided by geography and cost. For parents who work abroad, full boarding is often the only choice. Jo Lindsay, whose husband is a lieutenant-corporal with the Army in Belize, decided that her two youngest children should board at the age of 7 rather than be subjected to frequent changes of school. “We

are fortunate that our three children are happy. They come to Belize for the holidays three times a year and I come back to the UK every half-term. “The children get so much out of it. Alec, 12, who is at Sunningdale School in Berkshire, has friends on tap who can play football and cricket with him. Tess, now 9, adores being at Leaden Hall in Salisbury. She’s never been upset when we leave her. “I think boarding makes them more responsible because from an early age they don’t have mummy to see they have their pencil case and that they have done their homework. It also makes them more understanding of other children. They develop camaraderie and are much more confident than others their age.” Julie Lodrick, the headmistress of The Mount School in York, has seen a shift from the simple choice between day or boarding to the flexible approach that offers full boarding, weekly or occasional. Day school pupils can join colleagues for breakfast and also stay for supper. “Weekly boarding suits people for lots of reasons,” she says. “When parents work long hours they can get everything done in the week and devote the weekends to their children. Boarding gives parents peace of mind, it frees both adults and children from daily journeys and gives the older girls more time to study in a structured environment.”


4

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5

THE TIMES Friday March 25 2011

Independent schools

Independent schools

The hunt for the Holy Grail A levels face stiff competition in the quest for the best exam, says Francis Beckett

T

he Holy Grail among university admissions tutors is the litmus test that will allow them to distinguish the ferociously brainy from the merely remarkably brainy. It matters more than ever now, with greater competition for university places. So although Britain’s entire school examination system is under permanent scrutiny, the hottest debate surrounds the university entrance level. Not so long ago that meant A levels. In the majority of schools it still does but a growing minority are now switching to the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the Cambridge Pre-U, largely because they are thought to provide a more finely tuned grading for admissions tutors. The IB requires all students to take one subject from each of six areas including English, mathematics and a second language, and is now offered by some 223 British schools — 142 of them state schools. In 1978 Sevenoaks School became the first member of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference — the elite group of schools entitled to call themselves public schools — to switch to the IB. Chris Greenhalgh, the deputy head, says: “We get lots of students, especially teenage boys, who find reading dull and by the end of the IB they are reading again. And it makes those who like literature numerate. We in the UK are unique in specialising at 16.” He thinks that the modular

RUI VIEIRA/PA ARCHIVE

Cambridge Pre-U The Cambridge Pre-U is a two-year course, with examinations at the end, for students who want to go to university. It was developed by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), the world’s biggest provider of international qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds and a department of Cambridge University. Currently 26 subjects are available but it is intended to cover the full range. The course is a little like A levels as they used to be before modular courses. Students choose their subjects in the same way as they choose A-level subjectsbut there is more emphasis on making students find out things for themselves, rather than being given all the information in the classroom. And in addition to the student’s three principal subjects, there is a core component to gaining the diploma — an independent research report on a subject of the student’s choosing. Claimed benefits are: 6 Deep learning — a chance to explore chosen subjects in greater depth. 6 Joined-up understanding, making links between topics within a subject. 6 Time to grow into a subject. There is a nine-point grading scale which equates to A-level grades, plus a “distinction” grade. The first 59 schools began teaching the Pre-U in 2008 and the first principal subject examinations were in 2010. UCIE also developed the International GCE, taught in 127 countries, an alternative to the GCSE.

International Baccalaureate Students taking the International Baccalaureate study six courses at higher level or standard level from each of five groups: a language, a second language, experimental sciences, individuals and societies and mathematics and computer sciences. Students who find, say, mathematics or languages difficult must continue with them, although not in the depth that they study their best subjects. Their sixth subject may be an art or another subject from groups one to five. The programme also has three core requirements that are included to broaden the

educational experience and to challenge students to apply their knowledge and understanding: 6 An extended essay, requiring independent research through an in-depth study of a question relating to one of their subjects. 6 Theory of knowledge. Students examine the nature of knowledge through ways of knowing (perception, emotion, language and reason) and different kinds of knowledge (scientific, artistic, mathematical and historical). 6 Creativity, action and service. The aim is to learn from the experience of doing real tasks beyond the classroom.

approach of many A levels is “inimical to academic excellence”. That is the most frequently heard criticism of A levels. Studying in modules, each of which is separately examined at different times, is said to remove some of the rigour. For most people the IB was the alternative until 2008, when Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), which already successfully ran the International GCE, launched the Cambridge Pre-U. The first students took the Pre-U qualification in September and 120 UK schools now use it, about 55 per cent of them in the private sector, but Sevenoaks is not tempted to become one of them. “It harks back to the old A levels,” Greenhalgh says. However, that is just what attracts Winchester College. “Our pupils want and deserve to be able to specialise,” says James Webster, the director of studies. “Those who have struggled with maths can give it up with a sigh of relief.” Winchester wants to lose modules: “They cut learning into bite-sized pieces — little blocks that you can

mug up for an exam,” Webster says. “We wanted something that would stretch our students over two years.” The Pre-U is a bit like A levels used to be. It is linear, with examinations at the end. The university admissions service Ucas provides a tariff for all university entrance examinations, so that attainment can be measured roughly equally across them all and it rates the highest grade of Pre-U a little higher than A* at A level. That is threatening for A levels in the present climate because, the CIE claims, the Pre-U is finely calibrated. Sevenoaks is now all-IB and Winchester aims to be all Pre-U once it can offer all subjects (it offers 26 at present). But schools can mix and match. It is not easy but the Coloma Convent Girls’ School, a comprehensive in Croydon, Surrey, teaches A levels, the IB and the Cambridge Pre-U and lets its pupils choose between them. This ambitious offer is in its infancy and, so far, Coloma only offers the Pre-U in business studies and sports science but it aims to expand to other

Alternative exams are seen to offer a more finely tuned grading to help admissions tutors to assess candidates’ abilities

We in the UK are unique in specialising at the age of 16

subjects. “It is very complicated logistically, says Maureen Martin, the head teacher. “But if you have pupils wanting to do it and staff trained to do it, you should do it.” Martin is not critical of A levels — she just wants to ensure that her pupils are given a choice. “The content and assessment of the IB and Pre-U are different. They are alternatives, not better,” she says. It works for her — the school sends a group of girls to Oxbridge every year

and a third of sixth formers go to the Russell Group of 20 leading universities. And that, in the end, is what it is going to be about. All schools, but especially schools that charge fees, are under pressure from parents to gain places at top universities and, if the admissions tutors perceive A levels to be insufficiently well calibrated and therefore suspect, schools will continue to move away from them.

Independent Schools Council isc.co.uk Independent Schools Council (bursaries and scholarships) isc.co.uk/FactsFigures_Bursaries Scholarships.htm The Good Schools Guide goodschoolsguide.co.uk School fees emetis.com/primer/fees.htm Advice to parents isc.co.uk/ParentZone_SchoolFee AssistanceCosts.htm The Independent Schools Directory independentschools.com State Boarding Schools’ Association sbsa.org.uk

Commission faces court challenge over ‘too narrow’ interpretation of charity law Ruling will have a big effect on hopes for a tax break, reports Lynne Wallis

A Community link: Saint Felix School

row over what constitutes charitable status for an independent school — bringing tax breaks and the kudos of being good corporate citizens — is about to come to a head. The Independent Schools Council (ISC) goes to judicial review on May 17 to challenge the Charity Commission’s criteria, in particular the term “public benefit”. The commission’s

interpretation is that qualifying schools must offer help to disadvantaged pupils, while the ISC argues that this is too narrow a definition of the word “public”. The ISC believes that the commission has misinterpreted charity law by insisting that public benefit means offering help exclusively to poor families. It believes that the law means advancing education for everyone and is keen to test this through the judicial review. Until the Charities Act of 2006, there was a presumption that schools with charitable status offered sufficient public benefit. But, says Sarah Miller, of the commission, everything has changed. “Now the schools must demonstrate they offer public benefit and include in their annual reports how they do this,” she says. “Independent

schools charge fees but, if these fees are so high that poorer families are unable to pay them, the schools have to offer some provision to those who can’t afford it — via bursaries, fee assistance or partnerships with state schools.” A 2009 Charity Commission report found that two out of the five schools it assessed were not meeting the requirements. Both schools have since made the changes required to qualify for charitable status. David Ward is the headmaster of Saint Felix School in Suffolk, which charges £12,000 a year (£23,000 for boarders). One of its 443 pupils is on a full bursary while six others get up to 90 per cent of their fees paid by the school. “Working with communities is integral now. It is not just about bursaries but allowing community

organisations access to our facilities, from the netball team to community radio,” Ward says. He admits that it is difficult to justify free places to parents. He says: “They work very hard to pay our fees and their taxes and everyone digs in their pockets nowadays for Red Nose Day and so on. People are struggling — children who played two instruments now play only one, or they have given up judo — but we still manage to offer scholarships and bursaries because it is a whole social issue now, not just tax breaks. It is what we feel comfortable with.” Research carried out by the Sutton Trust, a charity dedicated to achieving social mobility through education, found that more than a quarter of 348 schools surveyed devote less than 5 per cent of their income to bursaries and scholarships,

with the wealthier, most prestigious schools giving the least. Marion Gibbs has been the head of James Allen’s Girls’ School (JAGS), in Dulwich, South London, for l7 years. Set up in 1741 as a free reading school for the poor, JAGS has a long history of educational help for poorer families from the deprived neighbourhoods nearby. It has 109 girls on assisted places out of 1,070, more than half of whom are fully paid for. The remainder are 90 per cent funded. Gibbs says: “This whole issue has been muddy and misunderstood in the past, but most schools now work hard with local communities. We hire out our sports facilities to corporate outfits and I write a column for a local paper, so that money all goes into the pot.” JAGS established a “good neighbours” policy of social inclusion in

1995 and it shares its community music centre with local schools and other groups. Gibbs says that most schools just need to be more entrepreneurial to find cheap ways to help. Lee Elliot Major, the research director for the Sutton Trust, agrees. He believes working on confidence and presentation skills are just as important for Oxbridge entry as academic study. “Independent schools could work with state school pupils on the life skills that can lead to an escalation of grades,” he says. “They are so good at planning, working towards goals and at things like inviting high-achieving pupils to come back and give talks. “Sharing best practice is a cost-effective way to help and it is much needed now because the divide between state and independent schools is becoming a stark one.”

A world away from the frantic pursuit of grades BRIAN HARRIS/REX FEATURES

Diana Hinds

looks at schools committed to nurturing free thinkers

P

arents choosing a school for their children must sometimes think that the entire education system is engulfed by league tables, examination results and the frenzied pursuit of A* grades. But some independent schools go out of their way to emphasise that they offer something more rounded — an education for the “whole person”. Gordonstoun is one such establishment, a coeducational boarding and day school in Moray (boarding fees £29,000 a year). “Whereas schools usually have a brief to prepare young people for the next stage in life, Gordonstoun prepares its students for life as a whole,” says Mark Pyper, the recently retired principal. Gordonstoun, which counts the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh among its former pupils, was founded in 1934 by Kurt Hahn, who fled Nazi Germany determined to help young people to develop both as individuals and within communities. His “outward bound” philosophy remains central to the school’s ethos, involving all students in international links, outdoor education challenges and community service. Academic achievement is valued as part of this overall package, with, on average, more than half its A-level students gaining A and B grades. Sporting activity takes a lesser role at Bedales in Hampshire (boarding fees £28,815 a year). Keith Budge, the headmaster, is proud of the fact that sport does not dominate the extracurricular programme in the way that it does at more conventional boarding schools. Educating the whole person (“head, hand and heart”) was the intention of the founder, J. H. Badley; the school continues to rejoice in being different from the mainstream. “The thing that strikes visitors most is that there is a different atmosphere in the school, compared with most other independent boarding schools,” Budge says. Students call teachers by their first names and dress as they please and rules are kept to a minimum. Enthusiasm, frankness and spontaneity are encouraged, and exam results are respectable — despite a persistent myth, according to Budge, that Bedales students are all “wild and on drugs”. Summerhill School in Leiston, Suffolk, has known more controversy than most — hardly surprising if you create a school, as A. S. Neill did, where students can choose whether they go to lessons. Neill’s philosophy, that children learn and develop better if given personal freedom, is firmly adhered to by his daughter, Zoë Readhead, the principal of Summerhill. “The philosophy of Summerhill has not changed in 90 years because the philosophy is right,” she insists. “This school is not just about academic learning but about becoming a whole

Summerhill School was created to give children a sense of freedom

Alexander Neill A head ahead of his time Alexander Sutherland Neill (1883-1973) was a Scottish progressive educator, best known as the founder and headmaster of Summerhill School in Leiston, Suffolk. Neill’s early experiences as a headmaster in Scotland at the start of the First World War convinced him that conventional education of the time was oppressive and damaging. Strongly influenced by Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich, Neill believed that repression in childhood created many of the psychological disorders of adulthood and he wanted to give children a sense of freedom. He felt that children learnt better when free from coercion and believed that externally imposed discipline prevented internal self-discipline from developing. In 1921 he founded Summerhill, which continues to follow his philosophy. Children do not have

to attend lessons, or to take exams, and they can choose how they spend their time. The school is managed democratically, with regular meetings to determine school rules at which pupils have equal voting rights with staff. The school, Neill argued, had to respond to a child’s emotional as well as intellectual needs. “I would rather Summerhill produced a happy street sweeper than a neurotic prime minister,” he said. His approach has attracted controversy, with critics calling it permissive or excessively idealistic. But, in 2007, Ofsted inspectors said that Summerhill provided a “satisfactory” quality of education and found pupils’ personal development “outstanding”. Neill also wrote many books, including Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing. DIANA HINDS

person. We want people to learn by experience about life, about decisionmaking and taking responsibility for your actions.” The school roll has fallen slightly to 63 pupils, aged from 5 to 18 (boarding fees are about £12,000 a year for an 11-year-old). The pupils inevitably include children who have had difficulties elsewhere. Exams, like lessons, are not compulsory at Summerhill, but most students take some GCSEs. “You won’t get a Summerhill pupil taking 11 GCSEs and weeping because he or she didn’t get 11 A* grades,” Readhead says. “They are interested in the broader picture.” Giving children a broader education is one of the chief aims of Steiner Waldorf schools, of which there are now 33 in the UK and Ireland.

Michael Hall School in East Sussex (day fees from £5,000 to £10,000 a year) is one of a small number in the UK that takes children from the age of 3 to 18. Formal learning begins at 6 and children stay with the same class teacher until 14. In the upper school pupils take GCSEs (no more than seven) and A levels, with a raft of Steiner subjects, such as craftwork and music, to ensure breadth. Contrary to the misconception that Steiner education is all play, the curriculum is structured and “rigorous”, says Sarah Wilson, class five teacher. “It gives them a more rounded education,” says William Forward, an upper school teacher. “They come out with a readiness to take on anything, a willingness to have a go and say ‘yes’ to life.”


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THE TIMES Friday March 25 2011

Independent schools

Independent schools

The hunt for the Holy Grail A levels face stiff competition in the quest for the best exam, says Francis Beckett

T

he Holy Grail among university admissions tutors is the litmus test that will allow them to distinguish the ferociously brainy from the merely remarkably brainy. It matters more than ever now, with greater competition for university places. So although Britain’s entire school examination system is under permanent scrutiny, the hottest debate surrounds the university entrance level. Not so long ago that meant A levels. In the majority of schools it still does but a growing minority are now switching to the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the Cambridge Pre-U, largely because they are thought to provide a more finely tuned grading for admissions tutors. The IB requires all students to take one subject from each of six areas including English, mathematics and a second language, and is now offered by some 223 British schools — 142 of them state schools. In 1978 Sevenoaks School became the first member of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference — the elite group of schools entitled to call themselves public schools — to switch to the IB. Chris Greenhalgh, the deputy head, says: “We get lots of students, especially teenage boys, who find reading dull and by the end of the IB they are reading again. And it makes those who like literature numerate. We in the UK are unique in specialising at 16.” He thinks that the modular

RUI VIEIRA/PA ARCHIVE

Cambridge Pre-U The Cambridge Pre-U is a two-year course, with examinations at the end, for students who want to go to university. It was developed by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), the world’s biggest provider of international qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds and a department of Cambridge University. Currently 26 subjects are available but it is intended to cover the full range. The course is a little like A levels as they used to be before modular courses. Students choose their subjects in the same way as they choose A-level subjectsbut there is more emphasis on making students find out things for themselves, rather than being given all the information in the classroom. And in addition to the student’s three principal subjects, there is a core component to gaining the diploma — an independent research report on a subject of the student’s choosing. Claimed benefits are: 6 Deep learning — a chance to explore chosen subjects in greater depth. 6 Joined-up understanding, making links between topics within a subject. 6 Time to grow into a subject. There is a nine-point grading scale which equates to A-level grades, plus a “distinction” grade. The first 59 schools began teaching the Pre-U in 2008 and the first principal subject examinations were in 2010. UCIE also developed the International GCE, taught in 127 countries, an alternative to the GCSE.

International Baccalaureate Students taking the International Baccalaureate study six courses at higher level or standard level from each of five groups: a language, a second language, experimental sciences, individuals and societies and mathematics and computer sciences. Students who find, say, mathematics or languages difficult must continue with them, although not in the depth that they study their best subjects. Their sixth subject may be an art or another subject from groups one to five. The programme also has three core requirements that are included to broaden the

educational experience and to challenge students to apply their knowledge and understanding: 6 An extended essay, requiring independent research through an in-depth study of a question relating to one of their subjects. 6 Theory of knowledge. Students examine the nature of knowledge through ways of knowing (perception, emotion, language and reason) and different kinds of knowledge (scientific, artistic, mathematical and historical). 6 Creativity, action and service. The aim is to learn from the experience of doing real tasks beyond the classroom.

approach of many A levels is “inimical to academic excellence”. That is the most frequently heard criticism of A levels. Studying in modules, each of which is separately examined at different times, is said to remove some of the rigour. For most people the IB was the alternative until 2008, when Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), which already successfully ran the International GCE, launched the Cambridge Pre-U. The first students took the Pre-U qualification in September and 120 UK schools now use it, about 55 per cent of them in the private sector, but Sevenoaks is not tempted to become one of them. “It harks back to the old A levels,” Greenhalgh says. However, that is just what attracts Winchester College. “Our pupils want and deserve to be able to specialise,” says James Webster, the director of studies. “Those who have struggled with maths can give it up with a sigh of relief.” Winchester wants to lose modules: “They cut learning into bite-sized pieces — little blocks that you can

mug up for an exam,” Webster says. “We wanted something that would stretch our students over two years.” The Pre-U is a bit like A levels used to be. It is linear, with examinations at the end. The university admissions service Ucas provides a tariff for all university entrance examinations, so that attainment can be measured roughly equally across them all and it rates the highest grade of Pre-U a little higher than A* at A level. That is threatening for A levels in the present climate because, the CIE claims, the Pre-U is finely calibrated. Sevenoaks is now all-IB and Winchester aims to be all Pre-U once it can offer all subjects (it offers 26 at present). But schools can mix and match. It is not easy but the Coloma Convent Girls’ School, a comprehensive in Croydon, Surrey, teaches A levels, the IB and the Cambridge Pre-U and lets its pupils choose between them. This ambitious offer is in its infancy and, so far, Coloma only offers the Pre-U in business studies and sports science but it aims to expand to other

Alternative exams are seen to offer a more finely tuned grading to help admissions tutors to assess candidates’ abilities

We in the UK are unique in specialising at the age of 16

subjects. “It is very complicated logistically, says Maureen Martin, the head teacher. “But if you have pupils wanting to do it and staff trained to do it, you should do it.” Martin is not critical of A levels — she just wants to ensure that her pupils are given a choice. “The content and assessment of the IB and Pre-U are different. They are alternatives, not better,” she says. It works for her — the school sends a group of girls to Oxbridge every year

and a third of sixth formers go to the Russell Group of 20 leading universities. And that, in the end, is what it is going to be about. All schools, but especially schools that charge fees, are under pressure from parents to gain places at top universities and, if the admissions tutors perceive A levels to be insufficiently well calibrated and therefore suspect, schools will continue to move away from them.

Independent Schools Council isc.co.uk Independent Schools Council (bursaries and scholarships) isc.co.uk/FactsFigures_Bursaries Scholarships.htm The Good Schools Guide goodschoolsguide.co.uk School fees emetis.com/primer/fees.htm Advice to parents isc.co.uk/ParentZone_SchoolFee AssistanceCosts.htm The Independent Schools Directory independentschools.com State Boarding Schools’ Association sbsa.org.uk

Commission faces court challenge over ‘too narrow’ interpretation of charity law Ruling will have a big effect on hopes for a tax break, reports Lynne Wallis

A Community link: Saint Felix School

row over what constitutes charitable status for an independent school — bringing tax breaks and the kudos of being good corporate citizens — is about to come to a head. The Independent Schools Council (ISC) goes to judicial review on May 17 to challenge the Charity Commission’s criteria, in particular the term “public benefit”. The commission’s

interpretation is that qualifying schools must offer help to disadvantaged pupils, while the ISC argues that this is too narrow a definition of the word “public”. The ISC believes that the commission has misinterpreted charity law by insisting that public benefit means offering help exclusively to poor families. It believes that the law means advancing education for everyone and is keen to test this through the judicial review. Until the Charities Act of 2006, there was a presumption that schools with charitable status offered sufficient public benefit. But, says Sarah Miller, of the commission, everything has changed. “Now the schools must demonstrate they offer public benefit and include in their annual reports how they do this,” she says. “Independent

schools charge fees but, if these fees are so high that poorer families are unable to pay them, the schools have to offer some provision to those who can’t afford it — via bursaries, fee assistance or partnerships with state schools.” A 2009 Charity Commission report found that two out of the five schools it assessed were not meeting the requirements. Both schools have since made the changes required to qualify for charitable status. David Ward is the headmaster of Saint Felix School in Suffolk, which charges £12,000 a year (£23,000 for boarders). One of its 443 pupils is on a full bursary while six others get up to 90 per cent of their fees paid by the school. “Working with communities is integral now. It is not just about bursaries but allowing community

organisations access to our facilities, from the netball team to community radio,” Ward says. He admits that it is difficult to justify free places to parents. He says: “They work very hard to pay our fees and their taxes and everyone digs in their pockets nowadays for Red Nose Day and so on. People are struggling — children who played two instruments now play only one, or they have given up judo — but we still manage to offer scholarships and bursaries because it is a whole social issue now, not just tax breaks. It is what we feel comfortable with.” Research carried out by the Sutton Trust, a charity dedicated to achieving social mobility through education, found that more than a quarter of 348 schools surveyed devote less than 5 per cent of their income to bursaries and scholarships,

with the wealthier, most prestigious schools giving the least. Marion Gibbs has been the head of James Allen’s Girls’ School (JAGS), in Dulwich, South London, for l7 years. Set up in 1741 as a free reading school for the poor, JAGS has a long history of educational help for poorer families from the deprived neighbourhoods nearby. It has 109 girls on assisted places out of 1,070, more than half of whom are fully paid for. The remainder are 90 per cent funded. Gibbs says: “This whole issue has been muddy and misunderstood in the past, but most schools now work hard with local communities. We hire out our sports facilities to corporate outfits and I write a column for a local paper, so that money all goes into the pot.” JAGS established a “good neighbours” policy of social inclusion in

1995 and it shares its community music centre with local schools and other groups. Gibbs says that most schools just need to be more entrepreneurial to find cheap ways to help. Lee Elliot Major, the research director for the Sutton Trust, agrees. He believes working on confidence and presentation skills are just as important for Oxbridge entry as academic study. “Independent schools could work with state school pupils on the life skills that can lead to an escalation of grades,” he says. “They are so good at planning, working towards goals and at things like inviting high-achieving pupils to come back and give talks. “Sharing best practice is a cost-effective way to help and it is much needed now because the divide between state and independent schools is becoming a stark one.”

A world away from the frantic pursuit of grades BRIAN HARRIS/REX FEATURES

Diana Hinds

looks at schools committed to nurturing free thinkers

P

arents choosing a school for their children must sometimes think that the entire education system is engulfed by league tables, examination results and the frenzied pursuit of A* grades. But some independent schools go out of their way to emphasise that they offer something more rounded — an education for the “whole person”. Gordonstoun is one such establishment, a coeducational boarding and day school in Moray (boarding fees £29,000 a year). “Whereas schools usually have a brief to prepare young people for the next stage in life, Gordonstoun prepares its students for life as a whole,” says Mark Pyper, the recently retired principal. Gordonstoun, which counts the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh among its former pupils, was founded in 1934 by Kurt Hahn, who fled Nazi Germany determined to help young people to develop both as individuals and within communities. His “outward bound” philosophy remains central to the school’s ethos, involving all students in international links, outdoor education challenges and community service. Academic achievement is valued as part of this overall package, with, on average, more than half its A-level students gaining A and B grades. Sporting activity takes a lesser role at Bedales in Hampshire (boarding fees £28,815 a year). Keith Budge, the headmaster, is proud of the fact that sport does not dominate the extracurricular programme in the way that it does at more conventional boarding schools. Educating the whole person (“head, hand and heart”) was the intention of the founder, J. H. Badley; the school continues to rejoice in being different from the mainstream. “The thing that strikes visitors most is that there is a different atmosphere in the school, compared with most other independent boarding schools,” Budge says. Students call teachers by their first names and dress as they please and rules are kept to a minimum. Enthusiasm, frankness and spontaneity are encouraged, and exam results are respectable — despite a persistent myth, according to Budge, that Bedales students are all “wild and on drugs”. Summerhill School in Leiston, Suffolk, has known more controversy than most — hardly surprising if you create a school, as A. S. Neill did, where students can choose whether they go to lessons. Neill’s philosophy, that children learn and develop better if given personal freedom, is firmly adhered to by his daughter, Zoë Readhead, the principal of Summerhill. “The philosophy of Summerhill has not changed in 90 years because the philosophy is right,” she insists. “This school is not just about academic learning but about becoming a whole

Summerhill School was created to give children a sense of freedom

Alexander Neill A head ahead of his time Alexander Sutherland Neill (1883-1973) was a Scottish progressive educator, best known as the founder and headmaster of Summerhill School in Leiston, Suffolk. Neill’s early experiences as a headmaster in Scotland at the start of the First World War convinced him that conventional education of the time was oppressive and damaging. Strongly influenced by Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich, Neill believed that repression in childhood created many of the psychological disorders of adulthood and he wanted to give children a sense of freedom. He felt that children learnt better when free from coercion and believed that externally imposed discipline prevented internal self-discipline from developing. In 1921 he founded Summerhill, which continues to follow his philosophy. Children do not have

to attend lessons, or to take exams, and they can choose how they spend their time. The school is managed democratically, with regular meetings to determine school rules at which pupils have equal voting rights with staff. The school, Neill argued, had to respond to a child’s emotional as well as intellectual needs. “I would rather Summerhill produced a happy street sweeper than a neurotic prime minister,” he said. His approach has attracted controversy, with critics calling it permissive or excessively idealistic. But, in 2007, Ofsted inspectors said that Summerhill provided a “satisfactory” quality of education and found pupils’ personal development “outstanding”. Neill also wrote many books, including Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing. DIANA HINDS

person. We want people to learn by experience about life, about decisionmaking and taking responsibility for your actions.” The school roll has fallen slightly to 63 pupils, aged from 5 to 18 (boarding fees are about £12,000 a year for an 11-year-old). The pupils inevitably include children who have had difficulties elsewhere. Exams, like lessons, are not compulsory at Summerhill, but most students take some GCSEs. “You won’t get a Summerhill pupil taking 11 GCSEs and weeping because he or she didn’t get 11 A* grades,” Readhead says. “They are interested in the broader picture.” Giving children a broader education is one of the chief aims of Steiner Waldorf schools, of which there are now 33 in the UK and Ireland.

Michael Hall School in East Sussex (day fees from £5,000 to £10,000 a year) is one of a small number in the UK that takes children from the age of 3 to 18. Formal learning begins at 6 and children stay with the same class teacher until 14. In the upper school pupils take GCSEs (no more than seven) and A levels, with a raft of Steiner subjects, such as craftwork and music, to ensure breadth. Contrary to the misconception that Steiner education is all play, the curriculum is structured and “rigorous”, says Sarah Wilson, class five teacher. “It gives them a more rounded education,” says William Forward, an upper school teacher. “They come out with a readiness to take on anything, a willingness to have a go and say ‘yes’ to life.”


Independent schools

More children are given the chance to go private Cash help from bursaries throws open the doors to a new generation, reports Ian Nash

A

private education is becoming more accessible as schools increase the number of bursaries on offer to help parents meet the cost. The big shift away from scholarships, which reward academic excellence, to bursaries, based mainly on financial need, has put fees within reach of a wider cross section of the population. The smallest increase in school fees for 16 years — an average of 4 per cent this academic year, according to census data from the Independent Schools Council — is another factor. Janette Wallis, of The Good Schools Guide, says: “Many top independent schools now cap scholarships at 10 per cent on merit, which can be topped up with bursaries. This means there are lots of winners and losers but, for those least able to afford

places, there is now more financial help than ever.” Three factors have influenced the change, she says. “First, partly because of pressure from the Charity Commission, schools are directing more of their academic scholarship funds into means-tested bursaries, leaving scholarships as mere shells with all the honour but little cash.” Second, schools have a genuine desire to assist and, third, there is the logic of the marketplace. “Why assist those already converted who can well afford to pay the fees?” Tackling the question of fees and what financial support is available is daunting. The Independent Schools Directory (ISD), set up to give parents the facts they need to make informed choices, urges caution over the huge range of services, many on the web, offering advice. While some are very good, it says, “some make themselves look like education advisers but are only out to sell you standard financial packages”. Advice from leading agencies is to focus on proven avenues such as the Independent Schools Council (ISC), The Good Schools Guide and the ISD. The financial support available is considerable — 32.5 per cent of ISC pupils are receiving help with fees this academic year, with those schools providing £540 million in assistance

annually. Top independent schools charge about £30,000 a year but there are excellent schools with considerably lower fees. Average fees a term, ISC figures show, are £5,367 (sixth form), £4,458 (senior, 11 to 16 years) and £3,294 (junior prep, 3 to 11 years). Boarding school fees average £8,003 a term. An alternative is State Boarding Schools’ Association schools. They combine state-funded education and boarding for about £10,000 a year. Mike Lower, general secretary of the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association, urges parents to consider “first and foremost” the type of school that they are seeking. “The ISC offers guidelines to parents on how to find the right school. Your ability to pay is almost secondary to that. A lot of people fail to appreciate that they are not signing up for just that year but for five or more and they have to be in a position to maintain that. It is really not fair on the child otherwise.” Despite the changes, scholarships are still an attractive option, particularly for children with specific talents, Wallis says. Oakham, Millfield, Harrow and Hampton Court House offer chess scholarships and Loretto, Charterhouse, Oundle and others offer scholarships for organ players. “There is a wide range of possibilities for bursaries linked to religions

PETER DAZELEY

Parents will not have to break the bank to send children to private school

and professions,” she adds. Schools run by Quakers, such as Leighton Park in Reading, offer bursaries to families from their religion as do the Methodists for schools such as Kent College in Canterbury. Wellington College has bursaries for children of deceased servicemen and women. St Paul’s School, London, says its goal is to have “need-blind” entry, so financial need is not an impediment

to admission. “We aspire to become the first leading academic school in the country to adopt this approach, welcoming gifted young pupils regardless of economic background.” Bedford School has introduced computerised scholarship tests, for which students cannot be coached. The scholarships, which cut fees by 10 per cent, are then awarded on merit. All other awards are means tested.


Independent schools

More children are given the chance to go private Cash help from bursaries throws open the doors to a new generation, reports Ian Nash

A

private education is becoming more accessible as schools increase the number of bursaries on offer to help parents meet the cost. The big shift away from scholarships, which reward academic excellence, to bursaries, based mainly on financial need, has put fees within reach of a wider cross section of the population. The smallest increase in school fees for 16 years — an average of 4 per cent this academic year, according to census data from the Independent Schools Council — is another factor. Janette Wallis, of The Good Schools Guide, says: “Many top independent schools now cap scholarships at 10 per cent on merit, which can be topped up with bursaries. This means there are lots of winners and losers but, for those least able to afford

places, there is now more financial help than ever.” Three factors have influenced the change, she says. “First, partly because of pressure from the Charity Commission, schools are directing more of their academic scholarship funds into means-tested bursaries, leaving scholarships as mere shells with all the honour but little cash.” Second, schools have a genuine desire to assist and, third, there is the logic of the marketplace. “Why assist those already converted who can well afford to pay the fees?” Tackling the question of fees and what financial support is available is daunting. The Independent Schools Directory (ISD), set up to give parents the facts they need to make informed choices, urges caution over the huge range of services, many on the web, offering advice. While some are very good, it says, “some make themselves look like education advisers but are only out to sell you standard financial packages”. Advice from leading agencies is to focus on proven avenues such as the Independent Schools Council (ISC), The Good Schools Guide and the ISD. The financial support available is considerable — 32.5 per cent of ISC pupils are receiving help with fees this academic year, with those schools providing £540 million in assistance

annually. Top independent schools charge about £30,000 a year but there are excellent schools with considerably lower fees. Average fees a term, ISC figures show, are £5,367 (sixth form), £4,458 (senior, 11 to 16 years) and £3,294 (junior prep, 3 to 11 years). Boarding school fees average £8,003 a term. An alternative is State Boarding Schools’ Association schools. They combine state-funded education and boarding for about £10,000 a year. Mike Lower, general secretary of the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association, urges parents to consider “first and foremost” the type of school that they are seeking. “The ISC offers guidelines to parents on how to find the right school. Your ability to pay is almost secondary to that. A lot of people fail to appreciate that they are not signing up for just that year but for five or more and they have to be in a position to maintain that. It is really not fair on the child otherwise.” Despite the changes, scholarships are still an attractive option, particularly for children with specific talents, Wallis says. Oakham, Millfield, Harrow and Hampton Court House offer chess scholarships and Loretto, Charterhouse, Oundle and others offer scholarships for organ players. “There is a wide range of possibilities for bursaries linked to religions

PETER DAZELEY

Parents will not have to break the bank to send children to private school

and professions,” she adds. Schools run by Quakers, such as Leighton Park in Reading, offer bursaries to families from their religion as do the Methodists for schools such as Kent College in Canterbury. Wellington College has bursaries for children of deceased servicemen and women. St Paul’s School, London, says its goal is to have “need-blind” entry, so financial need is not an impediment

to admission. “We aspire to become the first leading academic school in the country to adopt this approach, welcoming gifted young pupils regardless of economic background.” Bedford School has introduced computerised scholarship tests, for which students cannot be coached. The scholarships, which cut fees by 10 per cent, are then awarded on merit. All other awards are means tested.


Times supplement  

Times supplement for the Independent March 2011

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