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SBSA Annual Conference 2015
20th November 2015

'Bridging the Gap' SBSA Annual Conference 2015

Sunday 22 November 2015, Lancaster Royal Grammar School

12.00 - Conference Registration

Delegates were presented with their commemorative plaques upon arrival.  During lunch 2020 Furniture Design and iSAMS software were available to discuss their boarding and technology needs.

13.00 - Conference Welcome, Paul Spencer Ellis Chair

Following the conference photograph, Chairman Paul Spencert Ellis (Royal Alexandra and Albert School Headmaster) welcomed delegates to the 25th SBSA Annual Conference.  

13.15 - Kevin Roberts, Executive Chairman, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide (LRGS Alumni)

Kevin provided an entertaining insight into our SUPERVUCA world today:

  • Vibrant - the world where possibilities are endless and the spark and energy of the children in our schools are creating a vibrant and exciting world full of possibilites.
  • Unreal - where one simple idea has the power to change the world.  He talked through the idea that our boarding schools are hotbeds of ideas and creativeity and his belief that this creativity be harnessed.
  • Crazy - every school needs crazy teachers and pupils as these people produce a creativity culture.
  • Astounding - the world can change in an instant and in this astounding time we need to provide the support and opportunities for children to develop their creativity.  

Kevin left delegates with five key strategies for schools to create an impact in their schools:

  1. Reach for the stars
  2. Live life in 3D and create leaders
  3. Bubble over with ideas - be an ideas factory
  4. Fail fast, learn fast and fix fast
  5. Learn your ABCs "Ambitions, belief and courage", develop you purpose on a page and be the best set of educators you can be.

14.15 - Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster

Cat talked the audience through her journey to MP and her commitment to the 'transformative power of education, in particular, boarding'.  Many audience members posed questions following her talk.

14.45 - Dr Claire Hardaker, Corpus Linguistics Lecturer, Lancaster University

Claire shared her observations of trolling and abusive behaviour on social media. Delegates heard examples of public shaming, social consequences and vigilantism.  The insightful talk helped provide an understanding of why online abuse happens, who does it and why they feel the need to abuse.  As a result of her research Twitter have updated their Abuse Policy.  Claire was entertaining, interesting and provided valuable food for thought when addressing online school strategies.   

Click here to download Claire's presentation.

16:00 - Clive Sheldon QC, Maria Strauss and Katie Lancaster, Farrer & Co.

Presentation available soon.

16.30 - Workshop sessions:

  1. Crisis media management, Robin Fletcher, BSA
  2. Vulnerable children in boarding, Chris Hughes, RNCF
  3. Leadership management, Brian Ashton MBE (former England Rugby Coach)
  4. Development strategies for schools, Isabella Bennett, The Royal Grammar School High Wycombe
  5. Character development, Andrew Woods, Steyning Grammar School
  6. Marketing strategy, Helen Pollard, Royal Alexandra and Albert School
  7. Inspection update, Dale Wilkins, Old Swinford Hospital School

19:30 - Annual conference dinner. After-dinner speaker: Professor Mark Smith, Vice-Chancellor, Lancaster University

Delegates were treated to dinner in the A Wing of Lancaster Castle - a working prison until 2011!  Following a champagne reception and three-course dinner, Professor Mark Smith, Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University addressed the room:

Ladies, Gentlemen and guests, thank you for the opportunity to join you at this event and congratulations to the State Boarding School Association on its silver jubilee.

Having an opportunity such as this to talk to a group of people from secondary education as Vice-Chancellor I can’t let it pass without shamelessly plugging my own University. So I’ll get this out the way now in the expectation that you’ll advise your students to apply to us. 

  • Founded in 1964, Lancaster is now established as a top ten UK University
  • Our graduates have one of the best employment rates in the UK
  • We have one of the highest levels of student satisfaction in the UK
  • And, through extensive partnerships in places like Ghana, India, China and Malaysia, we offer a truly globalised experience.
  • Perhaps most importantly, we also have a very strong record at recruiting students from the state sector; we are elite without being elitist. Taking these factors together, we firmly believe the University represents an attractive proposition. Having said all this, I look forward to an increased number of applications from the 38 SBSA schools between now and January’s UCAS deadline!
  • The strapline of this year’s conference is ‘bridging the gap’ and I think that is a good place for us to start. Everyone in the room shares an interest in ensuring a smooth transition from school to University. We are as concerned as you are and the secondary and tertiary sectors should work more closely.  
  • Some of you might be aware that I was involved in a review of A Level content during 2013 at the request of the then Secretary of State for Education. I stress this was to look at the content as the political decision to decouple AS levels and linearisation has already been decided.  One of the key aims of that process was to create stronger links between the curriculum at A Level and that faced by students when they enter University. The good news is that the content was largely positively regarded and needed for the most part only a small amount of modification. I hope that you are finding the content of the 2015 reformed A Levels exciting to teach.  
  • We spend a lot of time, quite rightly, concerned with this academic transition. But preparing for tonight gave me some time to reflect on the importance of life outside the classroom for a successful career at University.
  • One of the advantages of attending a boarding school is the emphasis placed on developing character and life skills. Boarding schools have extra time with their students to work on this and offer a range of opportunities. This can have tremendous impacts.
  • We know from our own experience recruiting students that we need to offer a complete package – academic and extra-curricular – to prepare our graduates for the real world and unlock their potential. A University education does act as an enabler and we know, for example, that University graduates generally enjoy greater earning potential than those who stop formal education aged 18.
  • Although operating at different stages of a person’s development, there are many similarities between what you offer and what we do in the University sector. We are both aiming to create an environment which encourages students to challenge or test themselves, knowing that they have support and guidance from their school or University. Mistakes can be made and learned from. This is why the idea of physically attending a University endures, even with the technological advances we have made. Going to University has a value far beyond the qualifications gained.
  • Living away from the parental home is a formative experience and new for most University students, but obviously not for those who have attended one of your schools. This new found freedom may cause a few teething problems for some, but former boarding school students tend to rise above all this: you’ll be glad to know we don’t undo all your hard work - they make their bed every day and rarely miss 9am lectures.
  • If you have had chance to explore the university campus during the conference you’ll have noticed our nine Colleges, named after local places – analogous in some ways to the House systems you might run. They offer a sense of collegiality and loyalty.  The Colleges give students chance to assume positions of leadership within their community, crucial preparation for later life. Add into that the access to high-quality competitive sports; a rich cultural offer and a varied social life and the prospect of coming to University becomes compelling.
  • But we’d be naïve if we assumed it was easy for everyone – seeing students arrive each October with a box full of freshly bought pots and pans reminds me that many will be teaching themselves how to cook for the first time. A proportion will be first generation University students, without a frame of reference for their experience. Going to University is a major life event, and there are challenges. One of the trends in the sector is the increasing provision of student services targeted at those having difficulties, whether it’s academic, financial or issues with mental health. There is a pastoral role for University staff to play and that’s a responsibility I’m glad to say we all take very seriously.
  • Standing in a former prison reminds me I must talk about life in halls of residence. Fortunately, you’ll know if your son or daughter has been to University in the last few years that the quality of student accommodation is improving all the time – direct comparisons are now much harder to make. Although…Canterbury Christ Church University bought a prison a couple of years ago with plans to turn it into student accommodation – which strikes me as a rather drastic approach to improving retention rates. 
  • We’re privileged at Lancaster to have some of the best student residences in the country. Living on campus is fantastic fun, the corridors and kitchens are where you meet lifelong friends.
  • It is unusual in Universities now to have single sex accommodation but of course, back when Lancaster was founded, this was perfectly normal. As the sixties wore on, more liberal views developed to clash with this conservative orthodoxy, leading to an incident at Lancaster in 1968 known as the Dr David Craig affair. Dr Craig was eventually invited to resign as Dean of his College for daring to suggest that students be allowed to live where they choose. As this hit the press the response became fervent. For example, one concerned individual wrote that:

“the social unrest, broken marriages, over-populated prisons, borstals and approved schools, the increase in drug-taking and VD is chiefly the responsibility of intellectuals like Dr Craig ...”

Perhaps a little harsh – but if nothing else this incident was a sign of the changing times. I dread to think what the reaction of the Students’ Union might be if we suggested returning to the previous regime!

As a final thought and returning to the conference theme – the students studying at your boarding schools today could be the Lancaster student of tomorrow. Events like tonight are an ideal catalyst, triggering conversations about how we can best bridge the gap between school and University. And I’d welcome any further thoughts you have on this.

Thank you again for the opportunity to join you tonight and I hope you enjoy the second day of the conference tomorrow.


Monday 23 November 2015, Lancaster House Hotel

09:00 - Edward Timpson, Minister of State for Children and Families 

Edward Timpson, Minister of State for Children and Families addresses delegates at the State Boarding Schools’ Association (SBSA) Conference. 

"Good morning and I’m sorry that I cannot be with you in person to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the State Boarding Schools’ Association, but I hope you’re enjoying today’s landmark conference.  And I’m particularly pleased to see that you’re discussing the issue of the role boarding can play in bridging the gap, and how boarding school can be a realistic choice for some vulnerable children and young people who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to benefit from all it has to offer.  Now, of course we know that boarding school would not be right for all children, vulnerable or not. But evidence is proving more and more that for the right child at the right school at the right time, boarding school can and does really transform lives.

"And although the state boarding sector may be relatively small in size, it already makes a big impact, an impact that’s still too unknown and too unappreciated.  You’ll all have examples of children who, through their experience in your school, have gone on to far brighter futures than would have otherwise been the case without their boarding place, an opportunity we want to see opened up for more vulnerable children than is currently the case.

"Yes, the SBSA along with the Royal National Children’s Foundation, Buttle UK, the Springboard Bursary Foundation and the Reedham Trust, is doing fabulous work.  But what my Ministerial colleague Lord Nash and I would like to see is a way for councils to more easily access better information on the benefits of boarding, in the hope that this will encourage them to identify children who would benefit the most from a boarding place, and be better placed to make the social and economic case necessary to secure those places. That’s why we’re working with charities, councils and boarding schools to share the understanding of their work so that more young people can grab what can be a life-changing opportunity in the future.

"To that end I would encourage those of you here from local authorities to start making personal links with boarding schools in your region, and the charities that I’ve mentioned, so you can seriously consider boarding as a realistic option for your vulnerable young people.  It may well be the best decision you make for them.

"Thank you, and I wish you a very successful conference."

09:15 - Tony Little, BSA Honorary President - 'The Future of Boarding'

BSA Honorary President spoke to delegates about his vision and hopes for the future of 'good, modern, British boarding'.  As a pupil who received financial assistance to attend Eton, Tony was privileged to experience 'an open, vibrant world which provided endless opportunities'.  He spoke about his believes 'good boarding is an environment where young people are able to respond to and experience all-round care'.  He impressed upon the audience that 'extra-curricular is not a bolt on' but an important part of the education of every child should expect, and while boarding may not be right for every child, for those it is right for the breadth of school experience - academic and non - is key to a good boarding school. 

09:30 - Alison Alexander, Director of Children's Services

"Thank you for your welcome.  I’m very pleased to be here today. As you’ve heard I double up in Windsor and Maidenhead.  I’m the Director of Children’s Services and, also, the Managing Director – which other places would call the Chief Executive. I haven’t been doing the latter role that long and it’s full of new and interesting experiences:

  • Assisting/commenting on planning issues to build 700 house per year, on green belt, on golf courses.
  • Supporting the council to balance its budget.
  • Waste management – I never before knew how our waste was measured in tonnage!
  • And of course, because it’s the Royal Borough, the planning for various events in the current and future lives of the Royal Family and attending civic ceremonies.

"Alongside side these new things, in my short time I’ve learnt there’s a number of a things, even as Managing Director you can’t control. Many Managing Directors look after parts of the country which are served by somewhat anonymous MPs – you know, the sort of MP who when we’re told on election night that they’re ‘back again’, we never knew they were there in the first place. Not so for me.  Who do I get?  Two MPs – one of whom is Theresa May – great to work with, incidentally. So, I’m now doing things that last Christmas I had no idea I’d ever be doing.  

"Sometimes my daughter, 15 she is, in a moment of interest, asked me what I do – when I work such long hours. I try to explain how I spend my day.  And I recognise sometimes it is hard to capture in one sentence. I end up telling her what I’m trying to achieve – Impacting on the outcomes the population achieve, in the here and now and for the generation that is coming up behind that I will never know. I suppose if I was in an interview I would say I spend my day and evening trying to lead something that is more diverse than most multi nationals.  Local authorities lead and manage over 100 business lines.  Ranging from:

  • emptying the bins,
  • repairing pot holes,
  • distributing housing benefit,
  • fixing street lighting,
  • looking after the elderly,
  • managing the CCTV for the entire area for the police,
  • overseeing housing development,
  • regenerating town and village centres,
  • collecting business rates and council tax,
  • evicting tenants,
  • licensing housing of multi-occupants,
  • licensing children working,
  • licensing restaurant,
  • running a contact centre,
  • managing libraries,
  • building and administering car parks,
  • managing play parks for children,
  • overseeing green spaces,
  • safeguarding all the authority’s children,
  • and ensuring every child has access to high quality education.   I know it’s the latter part of my job that you are likely to be most interested in. 

"You will know, as much as I do - we simply don’t have the money to look, as we once did, at a series of distinct, separate, services to residents.   We have to bundle more together, we have to look for synergies and efficiencies and, in doing do, if we’re clever we can actually improve what our residents get - often for less money. 

"I don’t see this as government rhetoric for an austere world.  I see is as something that’s achievable – particularly in work with families and its impact on the children in those families.  We can do better and we can be more efficient, if we look at people’s lives in the round, not just at small segments of them. And it’s that idea that I want to try to apply to what we do for vulnerable children in the context of the arrangements we make for their education.  Put simply - usually unwittingly and understandably – we begin from the services we have now rather than the ones that are out there that we don’t use, like boarding schools, or those that we could create. 

"Almost always, we start from the things we’ve always done – and the things we’ve already thought – rather than from what we could do and how we could think.  Sometimes our thinking stems from ideologies that we haven’t examined for a long time to discover whether these should still be our ideologies.

"Is this enough?  Does this way of working serve us well?  Of course not. We are condemned – and I used the word advisedly, every day by the reports and by the figures that fall upon us with the ferocity of hailstones, bigger than golf balls, that fall, now, all year round. If we just take a few of the numbers around children and how they are not achieving – for instance:

  • Just over 40% of the country’s 16  year olds do not have basic English and Maths at GCSE.
  • Our poorest children still achieve much less than then peers in all education standards – they fair even worse if they live in the south of the country
  • Our most vulnerable those who have the state as their parents – do even worse.  They have the force of the state behind them and they do worse – I still struggling to comprehend this, for instance:
    • Fewer than 20% of children in care will leave the years of compulsory education with the basic educational qualification to allow them to become successful adults;
    • 19% of young adults showing up at homelessness agencies in 2013 in England, had been in care.
    • Nearly half of prisoners in English prisons, aged 21, have been in care;
    • Only 6% of children in care go to university.
  • Thousands of children in this country are on child protection plans – meaning they are in danger living with their parents – for a range of reasons - they are physically beaten, raped, emotionally abused.
    •  I suggest, you, can have two reactions to these kinds of statistics. 

"We can simply say that this is the way things are and this is the way they will always be – perhaps even intended to be.  You know:

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate

God made them high or lowly

And ordered their estate.  

"Or we can look for a world that is bright and beautiful in a different way.  We can react with outrage – and look upon such numbers as an affront to our professionalism and our civilisation. We do as those of us in this room are doing, we say that this cannot be allowed to go on.  On their behalf, on behalf of the wider society and on behalf or ourselves, we say that we have to do better for our vulnerable children. But, saying is not enough we have to have some idea about what we’re going to do that’s different from what we’ve done in the past.

"There’s no point really in railing against the dying of the light unless we have an idea where the light switch might be. Too often governments and our own professions deplore the way things are but I believe we have to admit to ourselves that too seldom have they or us done enough of the right things to make them better.  Even worse, in our frantic attempts to improve things our desire to not do things differently, to keep doing what we know or believe it, to not challenge our ideologies, our cack-handed, ill-founded approaches have often just made them worse.

"So, I want to spend a few minutes on a few thoughts I have about how we can work together to improve our children’s lives and what are our collective challenges. But before that, a few words on why I am passionate about, and talk on, this important subject. I am sharing these words because I find I’m invited to events because of my title – and I know that many in the audience, perhaps not here, wonder other than my title, what gives me the right to talk about this very important subject. 

"So a brief story to tell you why I think I know something about what I’m talking about. When I was 10 I went to a school for children with emotional difficulties.  I got expelled from the school a week after my 15th birthday, I’m a September born person – so you will all know this means I was two weeks into year 10.  I never went back to school.I went to what we would today call a small boarding special school, 80 girls.  In that environment I never had a secondary school education.  I was in a school, but I didn’t have an education.  From school to foster care, to children homes.  So when I was 16 I was living in a children’s home.  Rather than school they arranged for me to volunteer to work at a playgroup, the boys went to garages and the girls playgroups. I lasted four months. I had no education, no qualifications, no link with my biological family, a history of disruptive behaviour and no life plans.  This is the sort of person we now call vulnerable. 

"From that to the Managing Director of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.  I tell you this because I want you to know that I’ve lived the life of the children that we are all seeking to see succeed.  I know, more than some, the most important things we can do for a child is to provide them with a high quality education, to nurture their capacity to think for themselves and to give them all they need to take ownership of the own life – we might say that these three things encapsulate what getting a high quality education is all about.

"Lets start with the premise that everyone working in our sector is in it because they care.  But I wonder if we were here talking about what we are going to provide for our own children would we advocating something very different?  It is a hard fact to bear – but many people who talk about supporting vulnerable children would not accept for their own child what they accept for the children they are charged to work with.

"I think there is evidence to confirm that many professionals think it’s enough to be providing a service rather than thinking enough about how good that service is or how appropriate it is in meeting children’s needs. I wonder if, subconsciously, we think as long as we provide something for a child, offer some support and care for them, we are being successful in their job, rather than doing what we should be doing - caring about them.

"For me as a leader, as for you as leaders, my job is often about distilling quite complicated ideas into simple words – slogans, straplines if you like.  I hope, in Windsor and Maidenhead you would be hearing people talk about caring about children, not merely caring for them.  I also hope you would hear them being absolutely clear what success looks like. For them they would be talking about children being able to:

  • Make and sustain effective relationships.
  • Know how to be healthy and safe and to keep themselves healthy and safe into the future
  • Remain positive in spite of difficulties.
  • Have what is required to be economically independent.

"Forgive me if this doesn’t go much beyond the 5 outcomes of the 2004 Children Act but, frankly, I see no need to. We might debate if vulnerable children need these things more than others but I doubt any of you would think that they don’t need them at all, the challenge I lay out every day for myself and those who work for me is that we must set ourselves the highest ambitions and run the risk of falling short – rather than reduce our expectations and achieve them.  I am not prepared to have low expectations for any child – least of all for the poor children currently at the rich man’s gate. 

"Setting low expectation for vulnerable children is tacit, subliminal and damaging.  One of the reasons we don’t achieve enough is that, underneath, for all our public pronouncements and our private prayers, we don’t expect enough.

"So, we need to demand more – but we also need to understand more and more deeply.  We need a paradigm shift and a system shift if we’re to do better.  Put simply, we need to put much more energy into understanding why some children respond as they do and make sure we do everything we can to help them take ownership of their lives.  And we need to reduce those things that we do and the system does which makes that more difficult. 

"We must work to move from support services of all types that create dependency to services of all types (including parenting if you want to see that as a service) that aim to foster ownership and independence – and that’s why I’m so interested in the work of boarding schools with vulnerable young people.  It has nothing to do in my mind with ideologies and previous battles.  It has everything to do with what has the best chance of helping children and young people to take control of their own lives – and make something of them that is joyful and fulfilling.

"Nothing could be more important than creating the conditions where children and young people can take ownership of their own lives.

"No one - you included in this, me included in this and all children included in this - achieves anything until they want to.  You will all have personal narratives about this.  I do.  I’ve seen friends of my 15 year old daughter – for years corks on the water, their direction seemingly determined by wind or tide – develop ownership of their own lives, driving for success at school without much parental prompting at all. They now seem to want to do well whereas before it all seemed irrelevant. 

"It comes from within and not from without.  I’d have that sentence implanted into the front of the mind of every single person who works with vulnerable children and young people.  It comes from within not from without – from what they do, not from what you do.

"In my own life it came quite suddenly.  I was 17 and on a bus when I took the decision that I was going to go in this direction rather than that.  Was I to become a teenage parent or was I going to change my life?  From that moment I was not the same and, I suppose, it was that one act of taking control and ownership from which everything else, for better or worse, has stemmed.

"I couldn’t have done it then but I can now analyse how that point of decision had been reached.  I can now see what the people who were around me at that time had done and said – one in particular, only one – that created the conditions for that act of ownership to have happened.

"Why is this ownership so important?  Because, from it, comes a growing sense of direction, higher levels of self-esteem and a confidence that is real not bravado.  From it come higher levels of self-regulation and all of these lead to becoming a successful person. Ownership is the silver bullet; the provision of services not aimed at ownership isn’t.  To neglect it is a dereliction of the duty of adults.

"I want to see an expansion of the number of vulnerable children at boarding schools because I see the boarding element – the 24 hour curriculum or whatever you will call it – creating many more opportunities for children to be ‘led to ownership’ than can possibly occur in non-boarding education. 

"If you’re a Principal of a boarding school these are the questions you and your staff will need to be answering.   How does our boarding experience lead our children, including our vulnerable children, to take ownership of their own lives?  What do we do, implicitly and explicitly to bring that about?  How can we bring that work to the front of everyone’s mind who works in and with our school?

"In Windsor and Maidenhead I’m lucky – I have the newest state boarding school in the country, Holyport College.  The demand for places is so high it enables me to demonstrate to the professionals who are opposed to boarding that it is positive form of holistic education.

"I don’t think this is going to be easy to roll out across the country.  It’s not just the financial pressures local authorities are facing – though it is the financial pressures local authorities are facing.  It is also about the ideological opposition that exists to the very concept of boarding. 

"You will know that we face an uphill struggle in persuading social workers whose whole profession being, in some cases, is about supporting children at home within the family that boarding education has validity.  And that is why we have to be really clear about the benefits to helping children take ownership of their life that boarding can bring. 

"This is why we certainly need the research.  We need a stronger evidence base that supports our challenge of professionals who do not accept boarding. The Boarding Chances for Children project will assist us in this.  It is a project instigated by the Buttle Trust supported by the Department for Education with the research evaluation funded by Education Endowment Foundation.  York and Durham Universities have been appointed as the researcher. 

"The purpose of the research is to establish if boarding school improves outcomes for vulnerable children.  It will explore the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of Children In Need and those on Child Protection Plans attending boarding school (state and independent).  The intention is to secure involvement from as many local authorities as possible – but as you have heard me talk about – this is an area that many professionals are not in agreement with.  The Buttle Trust is seeking to work with up to 450 families.  The places at boarding school will start at Year 7 entry and will need to be funded, through partnership Buttle UK, the Royal National Children's Foundation and the local authority.  But it is a seven year commitment. 

"Many authorities do not plan to invest in vulnerable children at this level for seven years.  The approach for to long has been short term interventions in the hope that it will impact and stop those children needing more services in the future.  We all know this has not worked.  The reality is for many of those children we either take them into our care at a later point or they become vulnerable adults that we intervene in their parenting of their children. 

"For too long, I think, we have played at improving outcomes for vulnerable children.  The impact of our work across the nation in this area has been patchy at best.  I wonder why, for example, the impact of the Pupil Premium has been so limited in doing what it set out to do.

"Time, it seems to me, to try something different and this is one of the things we most definitely should be trying."

10:30 - Adele Eastman, Farrer & Co.

Presentation available soon.

11:15 - Dr Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor, University of Buckingham

Anthony delivered an insightful session on the differences between the university and school world, providing delegates with hints and tips to better prepare their boarding students for life at university.  In his words 'boarding is wonderful' and he would welcome more pupils to attend boarding schools prior to university as it 'helps young people to cope with autonomy'. He encouraged member schools to guide non-boarding schools and help them to develop strategies for their students as part of university preparation.  

12:15 - Robin Fletcher, BSA National Director

Robin thanks delegates and exhibitors for attending the SBSA Silver Jubilee Conference in Lancaster.  

Download the conference brochure here

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