Posted on 13/03/2016

Guest Blog: Beating Them at Their Own Game

As recently reported, top independent schools may be pricing themselves beyond the reach of their traditional core of middle class professionals, but there’s something they promise that parents keep paying for. Is it the prospect of following the school’s alumni into a glittering career in law, or politics, or business, or the arts or the army?

As shown by the Sutton Trust, the chance of reaching the top in these professions is still very much greater if you went to an independent school.  But while it may still be conventional wisdom in 2016 that ‘top schools’ set you up for ‘top jobs’, what if we fast forward to 2026, when today’s secondary school children are starting to compete for those top jobs? What skills will they need to succeed?

According to The Sutton Trust, “As well as academic achievement an independent education tends to develop essential skills such as confidence, articulacy and team work which are vital to career success”.

I’ve no doubt that independent schools are at an advantage when it comes to developing these skills.  Our independence means we can choose to run longer school days, investing time and expertise in nurturing soft skills through a broad co-curricular programme: music, sport, drama, debating, art and all the other opportunities that go into developing the whole child, way beyond the classroom. This all requires exceptionally inspiring and dedicated staff.  It means juggling budgets, term times and school hours to ensure a consistent focus on instilling those skills across the curriculum. But this doesn’t mean fees.

There’s a huge amount to be learnt from the success of the traditional fee paying independent schools in developing confidence, building aspiration and nurturing tomorrow’s leaders. And I’ve no shame in admitting we’ve drawn on the experience of the best of them. Longer school days, a culture of enterprise and expectation, emphasis on soft skills alongside academic achievement. But there’s nothing here that dictates fees – or fee-paying parents.  Indeed, for all the outstanding facilities school fees may provide, I’m convinced they preclude something fundamental for tomorrow’s leaders.

Thinking ahead to what the world may be in 2026, I question whether students are going to be prepared for life by drawing on the group-think of a restricted socio-economic cohort. And regardless of bursaries and  ‘needs blind’ admissions, huge amounts of talent, enterprise, resilience and creativity will never cross the threshold of fee-paying schools.  Will tomorrow’s world need leaders who have learnt about the world from within a gilded cage, or will it need those who have developed a broader understanding by learning from and with a rather more diverse mix of backgrounds, cultures and beliefs?

We have the great chance to take in this untapped talent and for us all to gain from it.  While some parents who can, will undoubtedly continue to choose to pay to go private, our challenge is to ensure that choice is not made because of perceived advantage in later life.  By tackling this conventional wisdom head on, we will ensure that the Sutton Trust has a very different tale to tell about the educational background of emerging leaders in 2026.

By Meriel Stinson, Founder and Governor

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