Why Teachers should teach in the Independent Sector
Recently I spoke to final year graduate teachers about why they might wish to consider applying for a teaching position at an independent school.
Pulling subject material together for this speech really focused my mind once again on why the independent sector has so much going for it for teachers and the knock on effect that has on the quality of education children receive at independent schools.
When you think only seven per cent of the school population of England and Wales is educated in the fee-paying sector this means the majority of teachers and Heads working have had no personal experience of what it is like to be either a pupil or a teacher in the independent sector.
I was one of the ignorant 93% but five years ago I took a leap of faith and moved into the independent sector, a decision I’m very glad I made.
So as an experienced Head in the maintained sector why did I do it?
For me the key word in all of this is ‘independent’. I had found myself increasingly being occupied by local and national initiatives that were not always appropriate or meaningful for the children in my school. The political football that maintained education has increasingly become is, at best, unhelpful to schools and at worst damaging to good schools and good Heads working hard to deliver quality education to the children in their care.
SATS and league tables are also hugely distorting factors in primary education in the maintained sector. The most obvious consequence of SATS is to corrupt the curriculum, particularly of Year 6 children who spend vast amounts of time cramming for tests that mean so much to the school, but that add little to the school’s knowledge of a child’s strengths and weaknesses, doing even less to offer a broad and meaningful education to an 11-year-old child.
Working in the independent sector has much to commend it. Here are a few reasons and the benefits to a child’s education.
1) Class sizes are smaller.
The average class size in an independent prep or junior school is around 16 pupils, making life easier in terms of classroom management and teachers getting to better know pupils. This doesn’t mean teaching in the independent sector is the easy option, far from it! The teaching, lesson preparation and marking are more intense due to higher expectations on independent school teachers to deliver quality and individual attention in the classroom and extra-curricular activities.
As any parent or teacher will tell you, it only takes one or two highly disruptive children in a class of 30 to significantly damage the education of the majority. The ability to tie Heads up in red tape if they wish to take action and remove a disruptive child from a school hampers effective maintained schools establishing good order.
2) Are parents more demanding in the independent sector?
Parents make huge sacrifices to send their children to fee-paying schools. They do this in the belief that class sizes, academic and extra-curricular opportunities will give their children the best possible start in life.
Having taught in maintained schools serving deprived areas as well as in the independent sector, my own experience is that parents in the fee paying sector, are on the whole, no more or less reasonable than ambitious, involved and caring parents elsewhere. The vast majority of parents work hand in hand with the school to ensure a child gets the maximum out of the opportunities.
3) Autonomy in curriculum planning.
The majority of junior and prep schools, especially those with senior schools attached, are free to innovate their own curriculum. There is no compulsion to teach any particular subject in a particular way. Independent schools have the freedom to adopt ‘the best’ parts of a national curriculum and forget the rest. About a third of independent schools do not use SATS at Key Stage 2, freeing up the curriculum in Year 6 for really creative learning.
Independent schools are inspected according to how well they deliver and meet their own aims.
Most independent schools employ specialist teachers in MFL, science, ICT, art, design, music, drama and PE / games. There are great opportunities for Subject Leaders to be Head of Subject in the independent sector, to specialise in their chosen field and develop their career path in the same way that secondary teachers can still develop.
Prep-schools (with children in Key Stage 3), do prepare children for the Common Entrance Exam for entry into Senior School at age 13. This is a very rigorous and traditional approach, but even this is being reformed.
4) Teachers stay longer at the same school in the independent sector.
Even at junior school level, there is much more of a career structure for teachers in the independent sector. This is one of the reasons teachers typically remain in the same school for longer in the independent than in the maintained sector. Some schools offer payments for extra duties and larger schools with boarding communities can also offer accommodation to teachers.
This continuity and familiarity in teaching staff enhances the ‘community’ feel of a school that it so inherent in its long-term success in nurturing children to becoming confident, responsible young adults. The academic relationship between children and teachers can also be developed over time so that there exists a deeper mutual understanding between each, enabling each child’s own individual learning needs to be considered more carefully.
Working in an independent school offers a teacher the chance to shape their own future while helping children make the most of the traditions and opportunities to take on leadership roles and responsibility that independent sector education nurtures. That can only be a good thing for the children they are teaching!