Independent Schools? Full of old blokes in tweed jackets and leather arm patches, set seats in the Common Room, sherry at four and pupils doffing their boaters before going off for a spot of Eton Fives and a dash down to the Dorm.
State Schools? Always on strike, kids up the walls and everybody out by 3.00pm.
Is that really how our two main sectors of education regard each other? Hopefully not. Every private school teacher and state school professional know that they have to work long hours in the face of tons of pressure and diminishing support, before students and pupils who are increasingly less respectful. At the same time, parents, managers and politicians expect more and more.
What we often don’t know much about is how the other side live. Surprisingly, a majority of teachers in fee paying institutions attended such places as children, whilst very few staff in maintained schools have ever worked in an independent one.
Therefore, let’s dispel some of the myths and look at the real differences between these kinds of education. Of course, every school is different, so we can only deal in generalisations, but understanding breeds communication and there are many who think that communication between the two sectors could lead to great outcomes for our children.
To clear the language up, a maintained school (often called State) is a school that is centrally funded, either directly to the school from a government body or via the local authority. Maintained schools include academies (plus free schools) and Grammars.
Independent schools are funded by fee income and other finance to which they have access (for example, endowments). These schools break down into those that are charitable, which is most, and those that are privately owned. A majority of the old fashioned proprietorial schools, set up and run by one person or family, have closed now although organisations such as Cognita run vast numbers of private schools. Put simply, a private school seeks to make a profit for the owner, a charitable school seeks to reinvest any surplus. Public Schools are the large, senior institutions such as Eton and Harrow, originally set up to educate the public. They tend to be charities.
There is little to choose between the two sectors. Maintained school teachers have their contracted working hours, but has anybody yet to discover somebody who can do all their various tasks within that time frame? If you work in an independent school then expectations are less specific, but you can typically expect a greater amount of pupil contact time (in smaller classes), but perhaps less pressure on planning and marking. Again, bear in mind that there are huge differences between schools.
Those working in a fee paying school are likely to find an expectation (often an obligation) to run after school clubs, take trips and, certainly, do a lot of duties. But usually, there is less (but growing) emphasis on paperwork.
A slightly shorter day in the maintained sector is then levelled by significantly (perhaps 5 weeks) less holiday.
It is hard to make even the widest of generalisations here. Until the rise of the academy, maintained sector pay scales were more transparent. They still are, but these days neither sector is particularly clear. Independent schools will often pay what they can get away with, and that is less than you might earn in a comprehensive or primary.
If you are looking for a job in an independent school, beware of broad statements such as: ‘2% above national scales’ – this will often refer to just the basic points. Again, allowances in independent school are frequently tiny compared to their maintained school equivalents.
One way that an independent school might offer more is through accommodation. You are only likely to be offered this if you are prepared to be involved in boarding, which brings its own demands and joys, but – particularly for NQTs – a flat or shared home can provide a healthy leg up in the early days of your career.
Note that the usual notice period is a term for independent school teachers against a half term for those from a maintained school. This tends to mean that there are more September jobs advertised for independent schools, particularly the bigger and more traditional ones, in the Autumn and Spring terms.
Curriculum and Pedagogy
Those joining an independent school will notice a far greater amount of time spent on PR type exercises – clubs, parents’ evenings and after school care. The way that a fee paying school satisfies parental expectations (and this is not to say that sports and drama clubs do not bring educational benefit, they really do) is often very good. If it isn’t, then the school has probably already closed down. Maintained schools are learning fast in the field of parental satisfaction. Happy parents mean contented children, and contented children learn better.
Where the maintained sector remains years ahead is within pedagogical methods. Such elements as tracking, target setting, monitoring and using interventions are still in their infancy in most independent schools, despite what many working in them might say.
Parents and Pupils
There’s not a lot of difference, beyond a greater percentage of Mercedes and Range Rovers collecting at the end of the day from a Prep School driveway. Parents are equally demanding, children are mostly great but occasionally difficult. Maintained schools tend to have much more support in place to deal with disruption, but also more serious incidents.
In which is it best to work?
An open minded approach is to be recommended. You will see a few more mavericks in the old independent schools, and teaching standards that range from truly inspirational to, being honest, not very good. In a strong maintained school, you’ll find up to date and groundbreaking pedagogy.
So, unless you are politically motivated, a good question to ask yourself is whether you are inspired more by running a rugby team than dealing with a dyslexic pupil?
Whichever you choose, work will be hard, but often rewarding.
A thought though, if the two sectors embraced more, shared more and learned more from each other the real winners would be the children. Achieving that means less myth spreading and more understanding from the teaching body.