Since Theresa May became Prime Minister in July, education policy has once again become headline news. Her vision of Britain as “the great meritocracy” rightly ascribes education a central role in transforming the life chances of children in this country.
There has been much debate over the proposals put forward in the Government’s Green Paper, but I see the key intention – to remove restrictions placed on schools and to promote collaboration between different providers – as an evolution of the last twenty or so years of policy, not a revolution. Over this period, thanks to the academy and, more recently, free school programmes, there has been a real increase in the diversity of school provision. This is a positive move. One size does not fit all and schools do best when they are given the freedom which allows them to respond specifically to the needs of the children and families they support.
The Government’s new proposals aim to continue this trend towards diversity by encouraging a broad range of providers to get involved in the opening of new free schools. Independent schools have rightly been identified as having a part to play in this, both morally as educational charities, and in terms of having experience and expertise they can share.
What does this mean here in Bristol? In recent years educational provision in Bristol has improved substantially; positive change is already in the air. However, new schools are needed to accommodate rising pupil numbers – by 2020 the equivalent of three new secondary schools will be required – and this latest opportunity for independent schools to work more closely with state schools can be another catalyst for progress. This is why Bristol Grammar School has submitted a proposal to open a free school in Knowle, an area of the city without its own secondary school. If successful, the bid will enable us to work in partnership with another school, allowing us to share new innovations and ideas, improving the educational experience for all.
These are exciting times for those of us working in education in Bristol. One thing that has become clear over my years of professional experience is that when people work collaboratively everyone benefits and we can achieve great things. If everyone, state and independent, works in partnership to raise standards for all, it will be a powerful engine for continued improvement here in Bristol.
Headmaster, Bristol Grammar School