Education reform and independent schools – Magnus Bashaarat in The Times

Academic & Curriculum, Bedales Senior

Following discussions on education policies at the recent political party conferences, The Times has published an opinion piece by Head of Bedales, Magnus Bashaarat. In the article, he says he is not unhappy that questions are being asked about the role of independent schools following the Labour Party’s commitment to integrate all independent schools into the state sector, with charitable status and associated tax breaks removed; and endowments, investments and properties to be redistributed.

Of all of the ideas currently being floated, Magnus says, that of integration into the state education sector is the most intriguing: “I like the idea of a genuinely national education system, and I lament that such a fierce dichotomy between state and independent education exists.”

He discusses Bedales’ foundation, born “from the radical liberal tradition that influenced the design of the national education system. Looking at the history of education policy, there is a laudable conviction that education should be for all, that it should be more than keeping people in their places, and that it is a necessary accompaniment to mass enfranchisement. Similarly, we can look to liberal educationalists for keeping alive the idea that school should be a preparation for life rather than simply work and that the total experience of the child rather than the uncomplicated transfer of information is the key to good learning.”

Bedales has stuck pretty faithfully to such prescription he says, but “the same cannot be said of the state system, however. Disingenuously, ministers have dismissed this history as a progressive aberration. Were I to be given the ultimatum, tomorrow, that Bedales be made a state school, and that it should follow the national curriculum and policy-makers’ preoccupations with the transfer of knowledge and disregard for humanities and the arts, I would decline. I would rather we shut our doors.”

He encourages policy reformers “to acknowledge that schools like ours have much to offer in terms of innovation, approach and culture”, in which case he would “love the chance to discuss what is possible.”

Magnus references the approaches of other countries, including Finland and China, with the former having a merged state and independent sector but he cautions that “Finland’s success was not achieved on the back of an exclusionary focus on academic achievement and a STEM obsession”. Magnus quotes Pasi Sahlberg, former director-general at the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, who said the school system “should be designed to inspire students and to enable them to lead happy, fulfilled lives both at work and outside the workplace”. Magnus suggests the UK has an “awfully long way to go” before schools such as Bedales might operate in mainstream education without sacrificing everything good that it does".

The full article can be read on the Times website here (subscription may be necessary).

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