The public debut of Chris Parry, the new chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, the umbrella body for most of the independent schools, will be remembered as the time everyone had to sit up and take notice of the elephant in the room.
Questioned by MPs on the Select Committee for Children Schools and Families on how links between the state and private sectors of schooling were progressing, Parry spoke his mind. He said there was still a "sectarian divide" between the two, that myths and attitudes reminiscent of the cold war still abounded and that trainee teachers often faced bullying if they expressed a desire to work in the private sector. Parry went on to talk about his misgivings about the academy programme, claiming some private school heads were reluctant to back it because the "beauty contest" nature of the project meant they would have to put all their eggs in one basket and ditch links with other state schools in their neighbourhoods.
Normally, select committee hearings proceed more drearily with witnesses from the independent sector only too acutely aware of the politics surrounding private education. Parry's intervention brought forth equal frankness from other witnesses, one of whom claimed he never saw tenants from working class estates using the playing fields of the independent school near his home in Canterbury. So, Parry's contribution resulted in a welcome burst of honesty. He will have to ensure in future that he has the facts to back up his strong words. He is to present evidence to the select committee about his bullying claims, so we will see whether he is able to do this.
Stephen Patriarca, the head of William Hulme's Grammar School in Manchester, the private school which joined the state sector as an academy last year, told the committee he did not recognise the description of the relationship between the two sectors that had been depicted. But Parry may have put his finger on the button with his description of academies. There is a debate to be had over whether independent schools can persuade charity commissioners that they deserve charitable status through backing an academy and developing links with a wider range of schools in their communities.