Some issues go right to the heart of what a private education is all about and what it is trying to do. To answer them properly, I’ll have to try to explain the education sector a little and why private schools are different.
In state schools, in the absence of individual attention, children are largely moved forward as a body through yearly age groupings and sink or swim depending mainly on their natural abilities. Missing activities designed to lend reality to theory produces boredom; falling behind the class as a whole produces confusion; not fully understanding definitions creates blankness and ill-feeling. Class sizes of thirty or more mean that an individual child ‘drowns’ in the group and unless they are particularly alert or supported at home by parents interested in education themselves, they lag behind expectations. Many fall prey to serious study problems from an early age and gradually drift out of the educational loop, eventually becoming disaffected and rebellious, with some becoming the teenage ASBO types that we see on the news. This leads to a whole range of social issues with which most of us are familiar.
Similarly, in the state sector, the local education authority takes the weight of the establishment functions like personnel and financing. (Being state schools, there is little need for a marketing function.) The Heads of those schools are thus supposedly free to ‘run the school’, but in this day and age, with over 30% of Heads leaving their posts due to strain and stress, and many others being overstretched by being asked to run more than one school, administration has to take precedence over love and care of the individual children just to keep the school afloat.
This system fails children and fails society.
Private schools generally try to take a different view. Smaller class sizes and more individual attention gives them an opportunity and a duty to create a better product. The school’s whole emphasis and passion is normally about servicing each individual child as an individual. This ‘raises the bar’ and means that, usually, they bear a much heavier burden than the state sector who generally don’t even recognise that a better product is obtainable.
Thus private school’s need new stuctures: an administrative arm is useful (which incorporates the functions of marketing and acquisition of new students, apart from running all its own finances, building management and ethics aspects) which supports a Head who is an overall in-charge and who should be totally passionate about service and quality.
Experience has taught me the Head position’s pluspoints and pitfalls and one of the pitfalls is not having enough attention free to concentrate on quality of delivery. A Head should be able, by taking a longer view, to put into place those longer term and deeper policies and procedures which will guarantee a better education for everyone who attends the school.
Heads should also be in the classroom for a significant part of their time - none should be solely administrators. Why? Because they should all be passionate about teaching and have great communication with the children they teach.
Private schools tend to invest in academic excellence and need a curriculum which places us further outside random state control while giving them standards overseen by respectable authorities.
What makes private schools different to state schools could be summed up in one word: authenticity. Unfortunately, by its nature, the state sector must generalise and thus loses the individual touch. A private school at its best is about that lost touch. Without it, the education sector as a whole tends to become a machine which has lost track of what it was meant to produce: the well-rounded humanity of tomorrow.