Government claims of a “Berlin Wall” barrier between state and private schools have been rejected by the headmaster of a prestigious independent school in the North.
Education Secretary Michael Gove this week said state schools should emulate the private sector in order to drive up standards.
But Martin George, head of the prestigious fee-paying Durham School, which this year celebrates its 600th anniversary, said the two sectors offer “very different” types of education and dismissed dismissing Mr Gove’s project as “southern-centric” and a “hobby horse of the chattering classes.”
But the head, himself a former Durham pupil, also challenged fellow teachers to step up and do “a little bit less whining about the Government and a little bit more getting it together and taking control.”
Mr George, who will step down in June after five years in the job, said: “I think from the perspective of independent and maintained schools, I don’t think you see a Berlin Wall. I think this is a hobby horse of the chattering classes. If you look at this school, we have children from a wide variety of backgrounds – academic, economic, geographical and social – so I think that the perspective may be a southern-centric one.
“I think that the independent schools in the North East that are thriving are rooted in the community that they exist in.
“Personally, nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing a good state school delivering excellent education for their children.
“This concept of a Berlin Wall isn’t one created by the maintained or the private sector and I don’t think it is a very helpful comment.”
Durham is one the most highly-regarded fee-paying schools, which can charge up to £20,000 per year, and exactly the type of institution Mr Gove wants state schools to emulate.
Mr George added: “If one is very honest about it, maintained and independent schools are very different but surely diversity is something to be applauded?”
He also called on the Education Secretary, who has been criticised for constant meddling in schools, to scale back the number of reforms he is imposing on the education sector.
Mr George, whose school is creating an institution in Dubai that will educate up to 2,000 pupils – three times its capacity at Durham – said some of Mr Gove’s reforms had good intentions, such as giving state schools the same autonomy as those in the private sector.
But he said many of the changes were being introduced too quickly and “could be damaging”.
He said: “Whether they are gimmicks or not, it is the speed of the new initiatives and the frequency of the new initiatives which are not helpful.”
Asked about Mr Gove’s comments that he could “smell the sense of defeatism” in some East Durham schools and that there was “a problem of ambition in certain traditional communities”, Mr George said: “If what he [Mr Gove] means is some schools are better than others, then of course it is true.
“But it is very easy to point the finger and say the standards are not good enough. It is completely different to identify why and provide the assistance and put it right.”
He added: “Schools and teachers need to do a little bit less whining about the Government and a little bit more getting it together and taking control.
“This Government is at least trying to give a degree of autonomy to schools and they should embrace that autonomy.”