The mistaken critics of independent schools

An obsessive preoccupation with a few, well-known independent schools produces a wholly misleading impression of the overall state of independent education  in Britain today, endlessly repeated in the national media. Alistair Lexden summarised the true state of affairs in a letter published in The Spectator on 9 February.

Sir: Those who write about independent education rarely manage to stray beyond the 200-odd establishments they love to pillory as public schools, an antiquated term long since abandoned by all save their critics. This is perhaps because they have usually been educated at such places, or have taught in them. Alex Renton, like the books he reviews, presents a caricature of independent schools as a whole by repeating well-worn charges against the well-publicised few with their ‘faux-Gothic spires’ (‘Old school ties can’t last forever’, 2 February).   

The Independent Schools Council has some 1,300 members, varying in size from 50 to 1,700 pupils. Few possess lavishly equipped theatres or vast playing-fields. Just 68 have top-class athletic tracks. Most of them stand at the heart of their local communities from which their students mainly come, and work closely with their neighbouring state schools which often share their (usually limited) facilities. Half of them are non-selective. Fees vary greatly, with an average gap of some £2,000 per term between schools in the north and south of the country. More than a third of families pay reduced fees. Parents are well aware that diversity and openness are the independent sector’s most striking characteristics today. Will commentators with their obsessions about exclusivity ever wake up to reality?

Alistair Lexden
General Secretary, Independent Schools Council 1997-2004
House of Lords