We are living through turbulent times and perhaps the most frightening of developments is the unchallenged ascent of populist demagogues who show scant regard for Plato’s well-considered position regarding the importance of justified true belief. Digital media may have led to a democratisation of ‘knowledge’ but Facebook and Google’s algorithms have imbued dangerous dogma with a credibility that is countered by any reasonable analysis of extant evidence. In this post-modern age, perception is everything and reality counts for all too little.
Hence, we should not be surprised that the Corbyn party faithful were whipped up to such an extent that they voted overwhelmingly to abolish private education. After all, Angela Rayner excitedly informed them that public schools currently ‘exploit tax loopholes’. This is demonstrably not the case unless one considers charitable status itself to be a ‘loophole’. Similarly, she asserted that parents who send their children to private schools ‘buy privilege and we subsidise it’. This was, in itself, a cynical and desperate lie designed to pit a collective ‘us’ against a demonised ‘them’. The reality is that parents who send their children to private schools save the Exchequer billions of pounds a year, as Angela Rayner knows only too well. Those at the forefront of the campaign to abolish private schools have repeatedly referenced Eton despite being fully cognisant of the fact that Eton is entirely unrepresentative of a sector comprising over 1,300 schools. Furthermore, any narrative which conflicts with the Labour Party’s position is discounted or ignored. Invitations to understand us and the extraordinary diversity that exists within our sector are roundly rebuffed. Whilst one has to concede that it has proved to be a remarkably successful tactic, it sets an unpalatable precedent. Is this the start of a dystopian nightmare, one in which scapegoating and deliberate falsehood triumph over logic and reality?
Some people will contend that someone in my position should be politically neutral. Indeed, I have been roundly criticised on social media for entering the fray and perhaps there are times when I have overstepped the mark. However, I have come to the conclusion that I have a moral duty to stand up and be counted on this one specific issue. How can I be neutral when I have been entrusted with the leadership of this community? If I am called upon to defend the right of the School to exist then this is not a responsibility from which I will recoil. I do not want to raise my head above the parapet and be ‘noticed’ not least because I am not sure that I have anything especially interesting or novel to contribute to the debate but nor will I allow my parents to be denigrated or misrepresented. I will defend the right of parents to choose with every fibre in my being.
I am a committed educator and I lead this school because I am dedicated to ensuring that we offer an outstanding quality of education for all of our children. It never dawned on me that I would be forced to enter the political arena. Yet to acquiesce or assume the role of an equivocator in the face of half-truths and relentless attacks upon our parents is not something I am prepared to contemplate.
The recent motion passed by the Labour Party is poorly conceived in every regard and the threat to seize charitable assets is, in itself, downright illegal. As a statement of intent, it is crude and contradictory insomuch as it seeks to place VAT on school fees whilst articulating a firm commitment to abolishing the sector in its entirety. One does not need to be an erudite logician to discern that these two positions are entirely incompatible.
Still, there is no doubt that we should be concerned about the inequality of opportunity for young people in this country. The spotlight is on us partly because the independent sector has been far too sluggish in its response to legitimate concerns that have been raised repeatedly, especially with regards to social mobility. Some of our most ‘elite’ schools have been tone-deaf to the mood music of our times and they have exuded a sense of privilege and entitlement that has no place in a modern and progressive society. However, I would argue that this only really holds true for a relatively small number of excessively wealthy schools in the Home Counties and it is certainly not reflective of the sector as a whole. Here at Rossall, I believe that our children are caring and compassionate. They certainly do not act with any sense of entitlement. Indeed, our pupils are a world apart from characters like Johnson and Rees-Mogg, who are so compellingly ludicrous that it is extraordinary that they actually exist – other than in the pages of a 1950s comic.
All parents at Rossall should be assured that we will never falter with regards to the integrity of our purpose. We are committed to providing an outstanding quality of education for all of our boys and girls. We are resolved to continue doing this no matter what political difficulties lie ahead. The school has never been in better shape and this is reflected in the happiness and sense of purpose that our boys and girls exude. Consequently, there is every reason for us to face the future with confidence.
Furthermore, since Labour passed this destructive motion, there has been a groundswell of support for private education. A recent ComRes poll suggests that scrapping fee-paying schools is a ‘vote loser’ rather than a ‘vote winner’. Many commentators have pointed to the extraordinary cost of the proposal and it is difficult to perceive how on earth closing independent schools would serve to raise standards in state schools. Only this morning, Corbyn appears to have distanced himself from some of the more extreme elements of the proposals. Schools like Rossall must be part of the solution and we should listen very carefully to the views of those on all sides of this debate. We should continue to serve our local community and maximise our public benefit because it is the right thing to do. We do not have an inalienable right to exist but it is my profound belief that if we are compassionate, open and caring, then our intrinsic worth will be manifest in all that we do. Therefore, we should embrace our adversaries and resist resorting to tactics that seek to divide rather than unite.
Finally, I am heartened that so many within our local community support Rossall so resolutely. Many of our colleagues and friends in the state sector have made it clear that this policy is not reflective of their views. Rossall does not belong to us but is part of the wider community. The school is always busy and more often than not those using our facilities are not pupils here and we should be proud of that.