Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Winchester College link: What a slap in the face

West Sussex County Council will no doubt present the ‘partnership’ announced this week between United Learning Trust and elite private school Winchester College as a positive development for Midhurst, and will conjure the ghosts of long passed relations between the town and the ancient school.

For those of you who have not seen the letter sent to parents, we were told yesterday by Robert Back that:

"Winchester College will make a number of significant contributions in the areas of governance, planning and professional development but its major contribution will be to assist the Academy's focus on raising standards and aspirations through teaching and learning. This partnership will provide new scope and opportunity for state and private schools to work together for their mutual benefit and the improvement of education as a whole."

A more damning insult to the professionalism of those who have dedicated all their efforts to working in a public service, for the benefit of their communities could barely be imagined! Every line reeks of contempt for the public sector and its values - its aspirations are not high enough, its teachers unable to plan or to encourage effective learning, its representaives unable to govern. I am sure we all look forward to the wisdom which Winchester College will bestow on us, and the important lessons which it can teach in aspiring to excellence (for £26,481 per child per year)! This kind of cynical pandering to the Lord Adonis' vision for education can only rub salt into the wounds of the already demoralised and angry staff of the schools earmarked for closure.

If you have not already familiar with the following stories, we would recommend you take a glance to get a feel for the institution which will be providing guidance and professional development to Midhurst Grammar School staff under the proposed Academy arrangement. A quick search of the BBC news site rendered these, you will no doubt be able to find plenty more similar stories:

Public school 'fee-fixing' allegations: Public schools Eton and Winchester have refused to comment on claims they are seeking an immunity deal in an inquiry into an alleged conspiracy to inflate fees. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/3105756.stm

College apologies for racist book: One of Britain's top public schools apologised after pupils made racist remarks about classmates in a yearbook. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/hampshire/3752678.stm

Schools 'might have broken law': One of England's greatest independent schools, Winchester, has admitted that the way schools exchanged information about fees might have broken the law. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/3119372.stm

Teachers suspended at top school: Two teachers at one of the country's top public schools have been suspended. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/hampshire/dorset/3569501.stm

The plans to link Midhurst's proposed Academy with Winchester College in order that the College can retain its charitable status has proved so controversial that it has also made the national press. This from the Daily Mail:

"A dozen public schools face losing their charitable tax breaks...The schools face being stripped of their charitable status unless they earmark more cash for bursaries and share facilities with local state school pupils. They are also being encouraged to get involved in Government initiatives, for example by sponsoring state academies to replace poor-performing schools....Winchester College, where boarding fees are £26,481, will provide teaching materials and staff to help bring the failing, non-selective Midhurst Grammar into the Government's academies programme."

For full article see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=530268&in_page_id=1770

Yet again MGS is labelled as 'failing', and yet again it is imagined that there exists some expertise - some magic from the days of Empire perhaps - in the elite boys-only world where classics remain integral to the curriculum and class sizes are counted in single figures which can be brought to bear on the education of the children of the Rother Valley.

We utterly reject this cynical, PR-driven attempt to curry parental favour by playing on the reputation of one of the country's most expensive and highly selective boys schools. This proposal is a disgrace.


Anonymous said...

Sadly I think you are almost totally wrong.

Just because Winchester College is a private school that does not necessarily mean that thier teachers have nothing to offer. Many of their teachers are very experienced (in the state sector as well as the private sector). Many are involved in examination boards and establishing curriculum.

Similarly I am not sure why teaching classics is such an issue for you. It provides a good grounding in the structure of language and a window into philosophy. Your argument sounds slightly anti-intellectual.

You point out some areas where Winchester has fallen foul of the law. I agree with you that any organisation needs to make sure its standards are maintained.

Resist! said...

Many Winchester College teachers are experienced at teaching boys in classes of seven. Some may have experience of the state sector. If having experience in the state sector is the criterion by which you judge the extent to which they have 'something to offer', then why not ask state school teachers to support and advise?

Ask 500 children in the Rother valley how relevant Euclid is to their lives. This is not an argument for anti-intellectualism. I teach Plato and Aristotle. However, I recognise it is best to take students from where they are, and taking a thirteen year old and teaching them Latin would seem to be a sound grounding in nothing but unworldliness and elitism. Classical texts, employed critically to cast new light on the world within which they find themselves, maybe, dead languages - no.

Trabb's Boy said...

I actually would love to learn Classics myself, but that is not the point. The point is that the two schools are in different worlds.

The teachers may have something to offer, but not simply by virtue of the fact that they teach in Winchester College.

Places like WC are highly regarded and "do well" is in large part because as well established institutions, they can select pupils from very privileged backgrounds, are funded at more thn twice the cost per pupil of the state sector and have very small classes. If I set up an education consultancy giving that as advice, will someone give me an academy, please?

I am sure that there are things which a place like Winchester College could offer to a state school, and vice versa. My former school enjoyed a successful creative arts project with Christ's Hospital a few years ago. But this was a mutual arrangements which both parties wanted. PRIVATE SCHOOLS CAN "SHARE" WITH STATE SCHOOLS WITHOUT TAKING THEM OVER AS ACADEMY SPONSORS, and they had plenty of time to do so before the tax regulations changed!

Trabb's Boy said...

Sorry- somewhere in my chequered public/private education, I missed out on proof-reading.
3rd paragraph should start: That places like WC...

and final paragraph should read "by a mutual arrangement" (singular).

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Trabb. I don't think private schools have anything to offer state schools which we shouldn't take for free. The whole corrupt and decaying lot of them should have been shut down years ago and their assets given to us for the benefit of all. Why should we have to put up with the crumbs off their table?
Your Academy is a disgrace and will be an example to us all of how not to run an education system ...for the benefit of the rich, and powerful.

Trabb's Boy said...

I take your point anonymous (2). I think I was not clear enough in my first comment. What I meant to say was that I believe any two schools (or more) can share, work together and learn from each other without there being a hierarchical relationship implicit in the arrangement. I certainly don't agree that that their status makes them any better. I don't want any crumbs of anyone's table and I don't want WC, ULT or anyone else taking over our state schools here.