The UK needs independent schools more than ever before to help it heal after COVID-19, according to the high master of St Paul’s School.
Sally-Anne Huang, the new chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), addressed hundreds of heads of UK independent schools at the association’s Autumn Conference today.
“The country needs to recover from multiple wounds. Not only to we need to restore ourselves medically, but in terms of inclusion, education and economics. The UK needs its most successful institutions, institutions like ours, more than ever before, to help it heal,” said Huang.
“Rather than being the ivory tower we can sometimes be perceived to be, we are instead an essential life raft for liberal education, civilised debate about the future, respect for expertise and for the development of sport and the arts.”
Rather than being the ivory tower we can sometimes be perceived to be, we are instead an essential life raft for liberal education – Sally-Anne Huang, HMC chair
Huang said the arts in education were underfunded before lockdown and in “even worse shape now”.
HMC have launched a new partnership with the Music Teachers’ Association to further collaboration between state and independent schools, and help school music survive post-COVID. Currently, 82% of HMC schools are involved in music partnerships with state schools.
“In HMC schools, we have long been the guardians of music and drama. Not because we think we do them better than anyone else, but because we have the resources to hire specialists and provide facilities,” said Huang.
“We will be labelled as elite because our pupils, on average, have more access to orchestras, theatres and specialist teaching than their friends in state schools. But are we actually supposed to stop doing these things because our partners in the state sector have been under-resourced?
“We are not trying to keep the arts for ourselves, we are trying to keep that precious flame burning so that it is there for others – now and in the future.”
Young people not ‘snowflakes’
Huang also said she feared the divide between generations had increased this year, and she was “tired of hearing the young described as snowflakes”.
“In this country, I cannot think of a group of young people, out of war time, of whom more has been asked or from whom more has been taken than those in our nation’s schools in 2020.
“Anyone who, like me, was with 18- year-olds in March when they suddenly learned that not just their chance to prove themselves in exams, but also all those joyous rites of passage at the end of their school days had been taken from them, anyone who saw them pick themselves up, move on, adapt, they would not call them snowflakes.
“Then they had the traumatic mess that was A-level results – and now they are being charged £9,000 a year for a university experience which will be remote at best, with the threat of being locked down in halls of residence when they have not had time to make friends or adjust to being away from home. It’s too much.”
Huang said HMC schools need to continue to improve access to their schools, deliver a curriculum that suits pupils’ needs and question what’s going on in the exam system and in universities.
HMC’s Autumn Conference, taking place online from 5-7 October, features the most diverse list of speakers in the event’s history, including Sonia Watson, CEO of the Stephen Lawrence Trust, comedian Phil Wang and rugby referee Nigel Owens.