As the new academic year begins, ISA is in the process of moving to its new Headquarters in Great Chesterford. ISA House will not only be the home of the Association’s staff and core operations, but also a training centre, and one of the many advantages of membership is access to bespoke, relevant training courses that address the needs of Heads and their management teams and governors. The annual programme of training and conferences reflects the diversity of schools in ISA, including Early Years settings, Sixth Form Colleges, and specialist schools; institutions run as charitable trusts or by proprietors.
ISA works to dispel the message that private schools are expensive and elitist. Earlier this year our President, Lord Lexden, called for a Parliamentary Debate on behalf of ISA Schools. This took place in the House of Lords under the motion, ‘to ask HMG what assessment they have made of the variety and diversity of schools within the independent sector’. His starting point was the extraordinary collection of misconceptions that dominate discussion of independent schools in the media and in politics: ‘An imaginary uniformity is attributed to independent schools. The variety and diversity that are their actual attributes have been lost to sight.’
The message is, therefore, gaining ground that independent schools come in many shapes and sizes, catering for children of a wide range of social and ethnic backgrounds and academic abilities. The stereotypical image of large, expensive public schools is repeatedly depicted in the media – but a great many ISA schools differ from this image: they may be smaller, offer a specialist curriculum or facilities, and be surprisingly affordable, especially when Heads think imaginatively, strategically and, above all, humanely, about how to help families access the education they offer.
During my tenure as Chair of ISA, I will continue to focus on the diversity of Association schools, which address effectively the care and education of all young people from Early Years to Sixth Form. At a time of curriculum change and upheaval in the examination system, I believe in the importance of continuity and a holistic approach to education that embraces outdoor learning and the arts as vital ingredients of children’s development.
I encourage all Heads, whatever type of setting they are running, to take full advantage of their membership. Neil Roskilly and his team at ISA House are always happy to provide advice and assistance in matters ranging from HR to community links. The newly appointed Regional Representatives in some ISA Areas and the seven Area Coordinators are committed to providing local support, getting to know you and your particular setting well. Fellowship is at the heart of ISA, and whether your school has a long association with ISA or you are one of the many newcomers, you will find a warm welcome at regional meetings, conferences and courses and invaluable opportunities to network with professionals who share the challenges you face as well as the commitment to the young people in their care. The benefits to your schools are numerous, too: over 24 national sporting events (including prestigious events at the Olympic Pool and Alexander Stadium), major competitions in drama, essay writing and fine arts, and a national awards event in November.
We all want the best for our schools and our pupils, and one way to ensure this is to make our voices heard, both within the Association and beyond. All Heads can get involved at regional level and there are opportunities at national level, too: you do not have to be a long-standing ISA Head to put yourself forward for such roles, as the Association actively seeks to make good use of its members’ talents, experience and interests -i t is only five years since I became a Member.
ISA is a respected and determined contributor to the national education debate, a major player in ISC, working with the DfE, ISI and Awarding Bodies to shape policy and advise on reform. Now 370 schools strong, ISA helps to maintain the viability of the sector: figures from the 2015 ISC Census show that pupil numbers are now higher than they were at the start of the recession. Last year’s Chair, Andrew Hampton, has been instrumental in the successful recruitment of the record number of schools joining the Association – 100 over the past five years – each worthy of the ISA ‘kitemark’.
Andrew brought acumen and energy to the role of Chair, engaging astutely in debate and working effectively with ISC. I will benefit from his expertise as he serves alongside me as Honorary Officer this year.
Of the many people with whom I have had the privilege to work through ISA, I would also like to mention ISA Vice President Deborah-Leek Bailey who chairs the Independent Schools State Partnerships Scheme (ISSP), on behalf of the schools’ ministers Lord Nash and Nick Gibb, fostering links between state and independent schools so that expertise can be shared. Such ISSP schemes are making a huge difference for pupils from both sectors.
Another member of the Education Committee, Professor Pat Preedy, is currently leading an initiative with Cache (Council for Awards in Health and Education) to train early years practitioners and classroom assistants, and a Masters programme in partnership with ISA and the University of Winchester.
Neil Roskilly, our CEO, continues to be the consummate leader of our Association, championing our schools with professionalism, understanding and poise. His commitment to the objects of ISA is clear, and he spearheads the Association’s work with major stakeholders across the sector.
I hope that you will get the chance to visit Neil and his team at ISA House soon. I look forward to meeting you at events throughout the year.
With all good wishes.
ISA Chair 2015-16