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“Why my private school became a state school”

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Hans Broekman

I’m the headmaster of the largest-ever independent school to beg to be voluntarily nationalised.

In 2013, after 173 years as a fee- paying, mixed ability school and as a founder member of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (a group of prestigious independent schools) our school of 725 students decided to join the state sector.

Since that day we have become an Ofsted ‘outstanding’ rated, all through 4-19 day and boarding school for 1,500 young people. We are the most oversubscribed school in the north west.

The ethnic and religious diversity in our school is now greater than the diversity of Liverpool, and each year a larger number of disadvantaged pupils, including pupils in care, are accessing the education we provide.

For us, the decision to become a comprehensive intake mixed ability state funded school is not controversial. We now look back and ask – why did we not do this before?

But I come not to bury my erstwhile private school colleagues but to praise them. Our school is oversubscribed because it has maintained a philosophy and programme of education which finds its roots and indeed its inspiration in our long association with the independent sector.

I am a huge fan of the sector, its variety, its values, its undoubted excellence, and its capacity, and my only critique is that not enough pupils of disadvantaged backgrounds access what it provides. I am not of the fanatic faction which believes these schools are all rich and wealthy like Eton, or all alike, or all bad, or all filled with heartless Tory plutocrats seeking to maximise the social segregation that blights this country.

I want us to invest in private schools so that their excellence can serve disadvantaged pupils in the country.

To that end, I would propose that the government present every independent fee- paying school with three options.

1. Become a mixed-ability school in the state sector

I mentioned we had to beg to be nationalised. It is actually difficult for an independent school to join the state sector. The so-called free school route is, for economic, technical, and governance reasons a terrible route for independent schools that want to become state schools. 

With a little imagination and will, the government could create a unit or group which was empowered to broker and support the transfer of independent schools to the state sector.

This move, well within the powers of the secretary under current legislation, would lead to the creation of academy state schools pursuing a recognisably holistic curriculum, providing mixed ability, non -selective school places at minimal capital expense to the government.

Surely, it is a sign of the perverted politicisation of the whole private school issue that this is not already being done…

2. Charity private schools must have 25% pupil premium students

The second option is that independent schools allow the government to invest in them by funding at least 25 per cent or more of their places specifically for pupils who would be eligible for pupil premium funding.

The government would allocate the same per pupil state school funding as provided to other state schools (currently about £5,500) plus the additional pupil premium funding a state school would receive for those pupils.

In this option, schools who wish to remain inspected by the Independent School Inspectorate and, crucially, wish to remain charities would then be inspected and judged in the “leadership and management” category on the extent to which their enrolment includes 25 per cent pupil premium eligible pupils.

This means that either through this inspection regime – or through legislation such as in Scotland that defines how many free places a school with charitable status should provide – schools would be obliged to recruit and retain a minimum of 25% of their school roll from pupil premium pupils.

The rewards to these schools would be that they preserve VAT exemption and charitable status, participation in the Teachers Pension Scheme, access to NQTs who were trained with government bursaries and charitable status, and their own inspection system.  

Now for the third option.

3. Ofsted must inspect all for-profit schools

For schools that do not wish to do either of the above would be able to continue as for-profit fee-paying schools.

But they would be subject to VAT on fees, ineligible for the Teachers Pension Scheme, and would be without charitable status – which, as we can see in a Times story this weekend, may already be under threat.

Meanwhile the schools would owe the government a recruitment fee for every teacher trained through bursaries at the public expense – and crucially (and unfavourable to many independent school heads), they would be inspected by Ofsted.

Overall, this reform proposal package is a genuine partnership between the independent sector and the state.

It is affordable and it would, at a stroke, change schools which are currently redoubts of social exclusivity into laboratories of social mobility and educational desegregation. 

It would help solve our national shortage of school places.

 It would be fairly easily absorbed in the curricular, timetabling and class size structures of independent schools.

It would hugely expand educational opportunity in disadvantaged areas and communities and ennoble the mission of independent schools. 

In my experience, independent schools are more than open to exploring some of these ideas. Why won’t we? Why don’t we?

Hans van Mourik Broekman is the principal of Liverpool College, an ‘outstanding’ state academy which converted from a former HMC independent school in 2013. He is an American Dutchman who was privately educated in the US.

Broekman debated his policy suggestion above at our Private Education Policy Forum: London 2020 panel event which you can watch here [19:25]. You can also read coverage in Schools Week here and a full interview with Broekman in The Guardian here.

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