Independent Education Live: event round-up

Jo Golding summarises the key talking points from IE’s first digital event

On Wednesday 4 November IE hosted its first digital event for school leaders, Independent Education Live (IE Live). The event was sponsored by education caterers CH&CO and safeguarding software MyConcern.

With over 300 attendees, the event covered a wide range of topics such as diversity, cross-sector partnerships, catering, exams, remote learning, safeguarding, as well as the current state of the independent schools sector.

Here’s an overview of what happened on the day.

Catch up on all of the interviews and panel discussions on demand on our replay page

Headteachers’ Question Time

Our panel of passionate headteachers (pictured above) stepped up to tackle the biggest questions in education. This included Nina Gunson, head of Sheffield High School for Girls; Millan Sachania, headmaster of Streatham & Clapham High School; Mark Beach, headmaster of Sherborne House School; and Jo Anderson, principal of Bury Grammar Schools.

We asked them whether schools should have been forced to shut in March, whether they received enough guidance from the Government to open in September, what strategies they used to reassurance parents and if their schools were prepared for more potential lockdowns. We also asked them about the mental health impact of the pandemic on their pupils, which remote learning tools have worked well and what should happen with next year’s exams.

All four heads were on the same page when it came to reassuring parents; communication is key. But not just communication; clear, frequent and honest communication, said Sachania. Using a single voice to communicate and addressing individual parents’ queries was important too.

The heads admitted that they had been surprised that some of their most resilient pupils turned out to be the most affected by the pandemic in terms of their mental health. “I don’t think we can underestimate the impact that working in isolation can have on young people,” said Gunson, while Anderson said they have learned to “expect the unexpected”.

Our panel agreed that exams in 2021 should go ahead, but Beach stressed the importance of the Government giving schools enough notice as to what they will look like. Gunson added that whilst she thought they could cope without GCSEs next year, she hoped A-levels would continue.

Independent Education Live

Interview with Nick Dennis

It was a pleasure to talk to Nick Dennis, director of studies at St Francis’ College, about how his role has changed since the pandemic, the biggest talking points in history education, and how schools can improve ethnic and gender diversity in their recruitment processes.

Dennis said independent schools have a unique opportunity to provide a full narrative in history education that reflects the diverse country we live in, instead of an ‘Instagram-style’ curriculum that only shows the highlights. He also detailed what schools can do to improve diversity in recruitment, from unbiased job descriptions, to asking for feedback about inclusivity from candidates.

Independent Education Live

Nutrition and Wellbeing: New Solutions for Schools

In this discussion, sponsored by CH&CO, we were joined by Amanda Ursell, CH&CO’s consultant nutritionist; Irfan Latif, principal of DLD College London; and Edward Valletta, bursar and clerk to the governors at Kimbolton School.

We asked the panel how CH&CO’s four pillars of focus – mental health, sustainability, nutrition and community – align with the education sector, how important good nutrition is for pupils to achieve their best, and how parents, educators and caterers can work together to encourage food exploration.

We also talked in depth about Marcus Rashford’s school meals campaign, how schools can support children with a vegan lifestyle and how CH&CO’s work to make good food fun will have a lasting impact on children’s health.

“The norm that you set within the school dining room can have a long-lasting impact,” Ursell said. She highlighted how a significant proportion of teenagers don’t hit their nutritional targets – for iron, for example – which can impact on how they feel, their stress levels and ability to focus. She said food education and making nutrition fun were both key to fixing this.

One good thing to have come out of the pandemic, Valletta said, was community. He mentioned that pupils now sit down and talk to each other more at lunch time. He also said local suppliers were important, not only to give pupils good food that will aid their wellbeing, but to help the local economy too.

Latif demonstrated how CH&CO had helped DLD College London transform its food offering and develop its new, inclusive ‘Global Kitchen’, which offers students exciting foods from all over the world.

Independent Education Live

Interview with Sally-Anne Huang

We were delighted to catch up with Sally-Anne Huang, high master at St Paul’s School, who reflected on the last academic year, her role as chair of HMC, and how schools can foster an environment for good mental health.

Huang, new to her role at St Paul’s this September, said it had been a good time to move schools, as crisis management meant she had been able to get to know the team very well right off the bat.

She highlighted how headteachers urgently needed consultation with the Government on what is going to happen with 2021 exams, and said this lack of discussion with those at the chalkface had led to a loss of faith. “I do wish there was more consultation. We as headteachers often hear things from journalists before official announcements from the Government. Faith that things will be consistent, I think that’s gone, but in some ways it’s made us more resilient.”

Huang added about the independent schools sector: “I do think that we’ll come out of this stronger.”

Independent Education Live

Independent and State Schools: Working Together

We valued the opportunity to host a discussion about how independent and state schools can form mutually-beneficial partnerships. Our panel consisted of representatives from both sectors who are currently working together: Tom Arbuthnott, deputy head (partnerships) of Eton College; Ben McCarey, head of Holyport College; Leo Winkley, headmaster of Shrewsbury School; and Nicki Mattin, principal of Spires Academy.

We asked the panel about how the sectors can work together to develop digital resources, the importance of cross-sector governors, how partnerships can develop new opportunities for teacher training, and how the sectors can work together to campaign for reform.

Arbuthnott reassured the audience that all partnerships start small, but can be developed into something with resources, staff and budgets, so not to be dissuaded by the thought that it’s too difficult to do.

“If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d be headteacher of a school that was partnered with Eton College I would have laughed at you,” McCarey admitted. However, he said his school’s partnership with Eton had allowed them, and necessitated them, to think beyond the “narrow” criteria children are educated within and think about each pupil as an individual.

Winkley detailed the hallmarks that allow for successful partnership work, which included the growth of trust, working locally, having a dedicated person to galvanise efforts, being able to measure impact and spreading news of the work being done.

“We want the best for the young people that are in front of us. In today’s world, where we are sat in front of a computer screen, that’s even more important because they could become the lost generation and it’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Mattin said.

Independent Education Live

Interview with Barnaby Lenon

It was an honour to have Barnaby Lenon at the event, who began his career in 1978 teaching geography at Eton College and is currently the chairman of the Independent Schools Council. On the topic of the current state of the independent schools sector, we asked him whether demand for independent schools had changed since the pandemic, the financial toll of freezing fees and the biggest challenges facing heads.

The big question was whether the independent schools sector is stronger or more vulnerable than ever. “It’s clearly very strong in some ways”, said Lenon, highlighting the sector’s “very good education”, “excellent value for money” and “tremendous historic continuity”.

However, Lenon continued: “Politically we’re vulnerable – we don’t have enough friends – financially we’re vulnerable because we know that our fees over the last 15-20 years have risen too fast, so we’ve lost some middle-income parents, but otherwise I think we’re in good shape.”

Independent Education Live

Outstanding Practice in Safeguarding and Pastoral Care

Our last panel of the day, sponsored by MyConcern, was an extremely important one – especially in the current climate. We spoke to Mike Glanville, director of safeguarding services at One Team Logic; Jan Pickles OBE, safeguarding consultant; Adam Lubbock, director of Kings River Education; and Luke Ramsden, designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and deputy headteacher of St Benedict’s School.

We asked the panel about the current challenges for DSLs, what additional measures schools can take to support them, what lessons have been learned since March on managing the consequences of Covid-19, the implications of online learning, and how schools can develop a culture of outstanding safeguarding practice.

The panel spoke about how the workload and expectations of DSLs has escalated due to Covid-19. “Our DSLs need more support in a number of different ways to be able to enhance their role and really recognise the responsibilities that they have,” said Glanville.

The panellists stressed the importance of DSLs needing a group of people to debrief with, where confidentiality is maintained, so no one is on their own in a role that Pickles said could sometimes be “toxic” because of the pressures involved.

Thank you to all of our speakers, exhibitors and viewers. We hope you enjoyed our first digital event and will join us for more events in the future.

Watch the replay at

Thank you to our gold sponsors: CH&CO and MyConcern


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