The headteacher of one of the region’s top schools has said private education is under greater political attack now than he can remember in more than 20 years as a school leader.
In his address to parents at Newcastle Royal Grammar School’s annual speech day, Bernard Trafford criticised the Government for its “hostility” to private schools and its plans to ensure independent institutions are inspected by its own watchdog, Ofsted.
Mr Trafford claimed some of this stems from jealousy of independent schools’ levels of resourcing and from the alleged tax-breaks they enjoy due to charitable status.
“Currently we’re on the receiving end of more hostility than I can remember in 24 years as a head,” he said.
“It’s sad but perhaps predictable that the Labour party and its spokespeople knock us so much. But the current Government is no friend of independent education, either.
“We heard this week that government is threatening to insist that Ofsted inspects independent schools. There will be a lot of argument about that. Ofsted is a mechanism for enforcing government agendas, so has no place in enforcing them in a sector that is, by definition, independent of government.”
Dr Trafford also hit out at the Government’s funding mechanism currently in place among the country’s state schools, paying particular reference to a Northumberland middle school which is the worst-funded in the country.
“There is still no clear and fair funding formula for state schools,” he said. “A school from which we receive wonderful children is Ponteland Middle School, judged outstanding in every respect at its last OFSTED inspection, but it’s the worst-funded middle school in Britain.
“It just has the misfortune to be in a more prosperous part of a poor county, Northumberland. Some people might say it doesn’t take lots of money to achieve excellence. But I think the head, Caroline Pryer, and her staff deserve better.”
Dr Trafford concluded his argument by criticising the government for refusing to consider funding places for bright children from poor homes at schools like the RGS, which continues to fund more than 80 bursary places a year from its own fund-raising.
He said: “Here at the RGS we are tireless in our efforts to raise bursary funds so that boys and girls from lower-income households can attend this school.
“We are passionate about that, proud that more than 80 students are here on bursaries and heartbroken when we have to turn so many more away because we can’t help them.”