Leading article: Private schools must speak out

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The Independent Online

Purves, who presents BBC Radio 4's The Learning Curve and who has sent her own children to independent school, called on the heads to speak up on educational issues even if this meant they were criticised or became unpopular with the Government. It was ridiculous that people searched the world for new ideas to bring to UK state schools while failing to recognise the innovations of private schools on their doorstep, she said.

Her comments echo the concerns of Anthony Seldon, the head of Brighton College and a biographer of Tony Blair, who has also argued that private schools need to be bolder and not afraid to innovate and speak out. Seldon, who takes over the headship of Wellington College next year, focuses his ire on the associations that represent independent schools rather than their head teachers. They have failed to play the same kind of role in the education world as the teachers' unions, he says.

Purves and Seldon are right. Although only about 7 per cent of pupils attend private schools, such establishments provide a rich supply of experience and ideas. They educate children who have come from the state sector and may go back to it in the sixth form - and their staff may also have taught in state schools.

That is not to suggest that fee-paying schools have all the answers; they plainly do not. Some of their solutions will be wrong for the state sector. But that is no reason for them to hold back. Independent schools do some things, notably music and drama, spectacularly well. Much of the educational debate concerns how this country can best produce the citizens of the future. Private schools and their heads have as much interest in that as the rest of us.