A View from the Hill – Autumn 2019

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Independent schools – are some more equal than others ?

It’s not often that you wake up to the news that a major political party wants to abolish you – but that’s what happened to me last Monday morning after Sunday’s vote at the Labour Party conference which means that closing independent schools is now official party policy.

The whole language of the debate around independent education frustrates me. Every time private schools are mentioned in the media, photos of white bow-tie wearing pupils accompany the copy with their gowns flowing as they walk into Eton College. But all our schools are not Eton – and the debate has made Eton a four letter word in more ways than one.

Dig deeper and you’ll find an arm of the UK’s education provision that is revered around the word. You’ll find hundreds of schools that are all different, run by Heads who have the authority to choose the curriculum that best suits the pupils, with pastoral systems and sports programmes designed to encourage confidence, resilience and wellbeing.

Dig deeper still and you will find schools like ours that rarely make a meaningful surplus, that subsidises pupils through financial support to the tune of approximately 12% of total income and that goes out of its way to adhere to the charitable objectives of its founders.

Kingswood House has an historic place in our town’s history. Founded in 1899, it still adheres to its mission by offering a holistic education in spite of the pressure of league tables and the 11+ pre-test rat-race. It’s not a grammar school and doesn’t have the same sky-high entrance requirements of some competitor schools. But its focus on equal opportunities for all (especially those with SEN) and strong set of core values (embodied in The Kingswood House Way) makes it worth fighting for. It pays in excess of £480,000 in PAYE contributions a year, adds £2.5 million to the local economy and saves the government £1.2 million by day pupils not taking up places at other local maintained schools.

Don’t get me wrong. Some private schools do seem elitist. Arguably, the case for independent education isn’t helped by Boris Johnson’s questionable moral compass or the image of Jacob Rees-Mogg lounging on the front bench of the House of Commons.

But every independent school isn’t Eton, and Eton needn’t be a four letter word. Every parent isn’t an aristocrat. Many of our parents make enormous sacrifices to send their children to KHS, which we recognise and appreciate.

If a Labour government doesn’t give us time to adapt and develop, and instead introduces extreme measures against independent schools, the state will have to find spaces for over 600,000 pupils and pay an extra £3.5 billion a year to accommodate what seems an indulgent policy.

There is more to lose both for the fabric of society, and financially, should an inconvenient stereotype eclipse the reality of our sector.

Duncan Murphy

Headmaster

October 2019

A View from the Hill – June 2019

Last week saw the start of the ICC Cricket World Cup, hosted in this country, featuring super-stars from across the globe such as Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and our very own Jos Buttler. For once, England started the tournament as favourites. In recent times, our one-day side has put all foes to the sword and established a fearsome reputation for hard hitting, canny bowling and athletic fielding. For people of a certain age, who all too often were used to seeing England teams wilt under pressure, this is a most welcome and refreshing paradigm shift. Yet, interestingly, when the players are questioned about how the side has cultivated its ability to set or chase down mammoth scores, the answer is not any kind of physical attribute, rather a mental one: namely, self-belief. But how has this been propagated?

It was Benjamin Franklin who once famously said, “Fail to prepare – prepare to fail”. Planning and preparation have indeed been the platform for England’s recent white ball success. Since the last World Cup tournament in 2015, the coaching staff and players prioritised an aggressive style of cricket which they deemed necessary to reboot their pedestrian approach. It has been many months, even years, in the making. On occasion, especially in the early days, this ambitious change of approach saw sizeable defeats as the players wrestled with the balance of shot-making and scoreboard pressure. But the wins started coming. A new brand of players emerged. Winning became a habit. It was a brave decision but one that has ultimately paid dividends with England now claiming the best one-day international record of any country in the lead up to this World Cup.

If planning and preparation have been vital – then so has trust. Players were given licence to play their natural, expansive game secure in the knowledge that they were doing so for the sake of winning matches, rather than preserving their individual career statistics. If they had a few games where they got out early, but kept to the team collective, they knew they would be backed by the coaching staff and not dropped from the side. If one player did not step up on the day, another team-mate came to the fore. A genuine sense of camaraderie was forged in a tight-knit, consistent squad of players who all knew their role and bought into the team ethic – they believed in a shared vision.

Wearing the label of ‘favourites’ is not a customary tag for England teams. It has an awkward fit because the traditional identity of an English side boasts neither the ‘alpha’ status of an antipodean team nor the cultured intellectual reserve of one from the sub-continent. However, this side has retained a refreshing humility and willingness to continue learning from experience. A victory is celebrated in a respectful and sportsmanlike fashion but the contents of the performance are still analysed and dissected in as much detail as a loss. As and when results go awry, the resilience and ‘bounce-back-ability’ of the side is stronger because there is a willingness of the team collective to work harder and make amends. The players are coached not just in the skills of the game but also in off-field matters such as diet, nutrition, conditioning, interview technique with the media and sports psychology. Attention to detail has ensured that the players are more rounded and better equipped to handle on or off field pressures than ever before.

Arguably, the evolution of this much-vaunted England team into potential World Cup winners can be traced back to three elements: their self-belief has been manifested by fastidious preparation to detail, reciprocal trust and genuine humility. These epithets transcend sport and can equally be applied to any individual or institution if there is a desire for positive change. Confidence can certainly be fostered in the right environment. At KHS, the opportunities on offer, in and out of the classroom, give a wonderful platform for boys to shine. In combination with a deeply caring and passionate team of staff, and the shared vision of the Kingswood House Way, the foundations are very much in place for each child to grow in self-esteem and be an important, constituent part of a happy, secure collective.

I was fortunate to attend the Bangladesh v South Africa match last weekend at The Oval. The travelling brigade of partisan Bangladeshi supporters, many dressed up as Bengal tigers, others adorned with bright green or red attire, made for a carnival atmosphere together with the yellow-shirted South African fans and their vuvuzelas. It was a joyful, exhilarating experience to see two differing cultures brought together by a shared passion of cricket. Tolerance was as much in evidence as excitement. The ICC World Cup is an uplifting tournament, featuring a diversity of skills as well as nations, and it is unified by shared values of mutual respect and sportsmanship. If only it were an accurate microcosm for society, the world beyond the school gate would be a healthier place for our children in the future.

Duncan Murphy

Headmaster, Kingswood House School

Duncan is the IAPS 16+ Schools’ Ambassador for the Sixteen Group and a member of the Society of Heads.

Mr Duncan Murphy,

Headmaster

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