The new headmistress of Bromley High School, Angela Drew, describes why investing in an independent school for your child isn’t just an investment in their academic development but also their physical, cultural, social and moral character
“We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
What motivates parents to choose an independent education for their children? The immediate answer might well be results. More than half the A level entries from independent schools achieve A* or A grades and a third of independent school I/GCSE entries result in A* grades (four times the proportion achieved by pupils in state schools). In many independent schools in the South East, results far exceed these levels.
Undoubtedly, a parent’s decision to commit to an independent school education for their son or daughter will usually represent an aspiration for, and indeed an expectation of, academic excellence. As the leader of an independent school, I expect my parents to be ambitious; I expect my pupils to excel. The sine qua non of an academic school is that examination results should be outstanding and that pupils should go on to the most prestigious of universities and become prominent in the most competitive of careers. An ethos of achievement, excellent facilities, small, well-disciplined classes taught by enthusiastic teachers with high expectations and outstanding subject expertise – like a favourite old Delia Smith recipe, the ingredients are simple and they can invariably be relied upon to result in success.
Yet an independent school education amounts to so much more than the accumulation of A* grades; it is the promise of a holistic regard for the development of your child – intellectual, physical, cultural, moral and spiritual.
J F Roxburgh, the first Headmaster of Stowe School, claimed that the aim of education was to turn out young people (in Roxburgh’s day, solely young men) who would be ‘invaluable in a shipwreck and acceptable at a dance.’ It’s a colourful evocation of the emphasis that independent schools have always placed upon what the Victorians would have described as the formation of ‘character.’
‘Character’ may sound like a rather old fashioned concept but The Girls’ Day School Trust has re-shaped the idea for the 21st century as the ‘Four Cs’ – the four key qualities which their schools seek to encourage girls to develop: Confidence, Composure, Courage and Commitment. These are leadership qualities which are not the less admirable for giving our alumnae a competitive edge in the employment market.
Contemporary and outward and forward looking, the best independent schools are still guided by long held values, not driven to react to each successive political initiative or to respond to each new government accountability measure. There is no league table to measure the extent to which we succeed in encouraging an enthusiasm for ideas and intellectual inquiry in our pupils; no national target set for generating a capacity for reflection, empathy and openness of spirit in our young people – but we devote immense care to the development of these qualities because we measure our success by the exceptional calibre of our students.
Our independence gives us freedom: the scope to shape the curriculum so that our youngest pupils can stomp off on woodland adventures in their wellies and our Sixth Form students can develop qualities of compassion and understanding by heading out into the local community to engage in voluntary service.
Our independence allows us to select the courses best suited to the distinctive intellectual interests and academic abilities of our own pupils. Choice is central to our ethos: the abundant extra-curricular opportunities offered by independent schools are intended to allow every child to find their niche.
Any decent school will enable the most talented and the most able to excel but the best independent schools create time to focus on developing each individual child; they provide a boundless range of artistic, physical, cultural, intellectual and social opportunities, experiences which fire the imagination. In a society which sometimes seems to encourage apathy and cynicism, it is sometimes our responsibility to be counter-cultural, to create inspiration, to cultivate enthusiasm, to nurture passion and commitment.
A commitment to an independent education should be incalculably diffusive in its benefits for your child, your family and to the wider community. It is an act of faith in the future because, by giving our children the privilege of an education which encourages them to excel, to be the best that they can be, we contribute to the good of society and to the health of a changing and unpredictable world.
Mrs Angela Drew, Headmistress, Bromley High School, A GDST School