The independent sector has not succumbed to “wokery” and schools are merely responding to the interests of their students, the chair of the Independent Schools Council has written.
Barnaby Lenon was responding to accusations by the outspoken headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh, who said schools were helping pupils to assuage the guilt they felt for their privilege by embracing “woke” campaigns on race, gender and sexuality.
This, she wrote in a recent book of essays on independent education, gave them “a green pass to secure your position as a good person”.
Mr Lenon wrote the ISC blog: “While many in the media have picked up and run with her assertion, it’s worth reading the essay itself for the evidence. Or rather, the lack of it. There is not a single example of any school’s policy, ethos or curriculum. Instead, there is a broadside against what she considers to be ‘woke’ behaviour.”
He condemned the idea that private school students were assuaging their guilt with empty gestures, writing: “I’m not sure which independent schools Katharine is frequenting, but it’s certainly none of the many with which I am acquainted.
“The idea that our students do not have a sense of duty or any interest in giving back to society in a meaningful way is, frankly, laughable.
“Partnerships and charitable work are at the heart of our schools, and that is true from the leadership right through to the student body, many of whom will give up their time and talents to benefit others. And that is not, as she claims, to show the world that they are a ‘good person’, but because they understand it is the right thing to do.”
He said that Ms Birbalsingh’s assertion that independent schools had a “misplaced love of child-centred learning” would “come as a surprise to many working in independent schools”, including those he met through his work in teacher training.
“The great majority are traditional schoolteachers who would run a mile from ‘child-centred learning’ and are completely familiar with the techniques used in Michaela [Ms Birbalsingh’s school in Wembley] – high expectations, firm discipline, no excuses, etc.” he wrote.
Mr Lenon added: “It’s true that many of our schools encourage pupils to set up societies, and some of the subjects they choose to focus on might be thought to be woke – climate change, anti-racism, LGBT+, etc – but each generation of pupils has different interests and we are pleased to give them the opportunity and the freedom to explore these while at school. The mainstream school curriculum remains fairly traditional in most independent schools.”
The text of Ms Birbalsingh’s essay can be seen here on Twitter.