State Boarding Schools’ Association annual
afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I would
wish to echo Melvyn’s welcome to Wymondham, which of course is based in God’s
own county, Norfolk! And to thank him and his colleagues for their generosity
in allowing us to host this conference at Wymondham College.
welcome to Elizabeth Truss, MP for South West Norfolk and Parliamentary
Under-Secretary of State for Education and Childcare. We look forward to hearing from Liz in a short
only yesterday that many of us were gathered in Reigate at last year’s
conference. It has been a busy year for the SBSA. Without doubt, the positive engagement with
the DfE, in particular with Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
for Schools and his team, Joanne Harker and Susan Shakespeare, has been the
highlight of the year.
delighted that DFE has indicated that SBSA will receive £52,000 to support the
training of SBSA staff and we look forward to confirmation that the money will
be forthcoming very soon.
Clearly the DFE has recognised the importance of training boarding
staff and acknowledged the disproportionate costs to SBSA schools which have to
fund cover for those staff attending the courses. Here is tangible evidence of
the Government’s support for state boarding schools.
trouble is the Government’s lack of imagination or vision for how it can support
the schools themselves - the literal, physical, bricks and mortar, the bedrooms
and the dining-rooms of boarding schools - some of which date back to the 15th
century. We may end up with wonderfully trained staff in buildings collapsing
around them, with boarders running for cover, and prospective parents – and
Ofsted inspectors – frankly horrified.
behalf of all of you, for two years now we have been seeking clarity and
security from the Government concerning capital investment in the fabric of
state boarding schools. We are in dire need of it.
Nash spoke to us in June, and indeed came to this very school in July, and was
eloquent in his praise for state boarding schools. But we have not been given
the means to secure their future.
£17m has been given – no questions asked - to a new academy in Sussex. To an
organisation and a headmaster with no experience in boarding. A funding
decision that – quite rightly in my view - is being queried by the Public Accounts
Committee and the National Audit Office.
of our longest established schools, run by experienced heads, are
desperately anxious about the survival of their boarding houses. Large and
successful schools with small boarding houses, and possibly dwindling numbers
of boarders, may well wonder why they bother. A boarding house might look more
useful if converted into a sixth-form centre. And if the state itself does not
wish to sustain a state boarding school, why should the governors or
headteacher care less? This is not because the schools are badly managed, it’s
because they have no capital with which to maintain their buildings or improve
their facilities. State boarding schools are not allowed to make a profit,
neither are they allowed to borrow. To survive, they need state support.
Laws MP has told the House of Commons that the long-awaited conclusions of the
Department for Education’s property data survey may not be available until
after the summer of 2014, causing even more anxiety about state boarding schools’
future and Government commitment.
are grateful to the David Ross Educational Trust for its financial support of
state boarding. Its contribution to Skegness Grammar School – not so far from
here - has delivered impressive improvements to the boarding facilities. But it
is sad that the sector needs to look to philanthropists rather than Government
for its survival. If the government wants us to go cap in hand to individual
sponsors, to behave like entrepreneurs, I would ask it to just tell us that we
can. At the moment, we are forbidden.
believe that Lord Nash is listening to us but to be honest we are
confused. A grant for training –
excellent – but if we lose our boarding houses that investment will be in vain.
must ask the Government: Do
you want us to survive, even progress, over the next ten years? If you do, we
need commitment now. Because without that commitment, other schools will follow
where Charnwood, St Brigid’s and Westgate have gone.
In any state
school it is easier not to do boarding. Please don’t make it impossible.
that state boarding is a vital part of this country’s educational system.
Without support and development, our school Governors may take the view that
state boarding is simply not viable.
From my own
experience as head of an SBSA school and from talking with other SBSA heads, I
know that our schools deliver, year on year, outstanding value-added results at
A level and GCSE.
We care for
vulnerable children. We fully support ordinary hard-working families (to use
one of the Government’s favourite phrases). We prioritise families where one
member of the family is serving in the armed forces. And we listen to, support
and care for pupils at every level. Boarding, especially in the 6th
form, prepares students not just for university but also for life after school.
gentlemen, forgive me for concentrating on just one issue in my speech to you
today. But it is a vital one, and I know I speak for you all when I say how
passionately we care about our schools, our pupils and the contribution we make
to education in this country.
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