Call for the state to take control of private schools' assets could set ‘a dangerous precedent’, sector leaders warn
30th August 2019
A call for the state to take control of all private-school assets is set to be considered at the Labour Party conference next month.
The motion, submitted by the Labour Against Private Schools campaign, calls for “endowments, investments and properties held by private schools to be redistributed democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions”.
But Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, warned that the motion would involve “the state unilaterally seizing private property”.
“The impact on society of setting such a dangerous precedent would be huge and have wide-ranging implications," she said.
“Would the general public be comfortable with an education system that offers no alternative to government-run schools?
“Abolishing independent schools will not improve the overall quality of our nation’s education. Such a move would further swell state school class sizes and cost the state sector, which is already under extreme financial pressure, billions more than the £3.5 billion currently saved through the education of children and young people outside of state schools.
"Independent school parents have already paid for their children’s state education through taxation but choose not to take it up.”
Independent schools in the UK are under attack. Are there lessons to be learnt from Australia’s independent schools?
Mike Buchanan, executive director of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference explains “I have spent part of my time with heads of independent schools in Australia, reacquainting myself with the opportunities and challenges in a significantly different educational and political jurisdiction. But there are also many parallels with the UK that, I believe, may offer some lessons we can learn about how independent schools might change or be changed.
The most obvious contrast is that the independent sector in Australia is more closely integrated into the national educational system, with about 35% of all pupils across the country enrolled in such schools. As might be expected, independent schools mostly serve the middle classes, but are nevertheless part funded to do so by the government.
As a result, they are largely seen as contributing positively to the mixed provision of education. They are mainly academically non-selective, popular and successful in terms of turning out well-rounded young people.
In return for receiving some state funding, they are held to account by the government, but not to such an extent that they relinquish their excellence or independence of thought and action. Regardless of type, for example, all schools are regulated by the same curriculum standards framework administered by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.
Independent schools in Australia are largely charities and, on average, much larger than independent schools in the UK, with many well-known schools spread across multiple campuses, providing an education for thousands of children and young people at a time. Perhaps because of all of this, fees are affordable for many and independent education is seen as something to which many can aspire.
Is the system in Australia perfect? Of course not, but it is worth considering whether any lessons from independent schools in Australia can be applied on the other side of the world.