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Welcome speech by Roy Page, Chairman of the SBSA and headmaster of The Royal Grammar School High Wyc
25th November 2013

 State Boarding Schools’ Association annual conference 2013

Wymondham College, Norfolk

 

Good 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.

A particular 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 while.

It seems 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.

We are 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.

The 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.  

On 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.

Lord 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.

Meanwhile, £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.

Some 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.

David 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.

We 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.

I 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.

I 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.

We believe 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.

Ladies and 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.

Thank you. 

 

 

Media enquiries to Sheila Thompson on 07958 307 637 or to sheilat@blj.co.uk