Royal Grammar School




Today was Leavers' Day, and all went pretty quietly, well better than quietly.

It was a delightful morning in school with good-humoured, grateful students letting off a little steam in a good-hearted way as they celebrated the rite of passage of leaving school (apart from that huge crop of A-level papers to come...) They had a mock Oscars ceremony, a parade of their fancy dress and a large group photo (unfortunately at the moment the heavens opened and rain briefly pelted down) and pizza for lunch.

We're always slightly apprehensive before the event, because at such times young people can sometimes misjudge things. But we shouldn't be surprised that they had such a good day. We now look forward to the Leavers' Dinner tonight, off-site in the city centre. They've had a great time at school for the last two, five, seven, nine or even eleven years. I was astonished when I asked those who'd done eleven years here to put up their hands, it was quite a number!

They've enjoyed a lot of successes and happy times, but undoubtedly will have gone through some less easy phases, for such is growing up. But they know they've had great opportunities here, experienced fantastic teaching, made wonderful (lifelong) friendships, and are grateful for all of them. Why mess it up at the end, especially when the school has tried so hard to show how much we care for them, not least in the provision of 55 pizzas delivered for lunch?! Of course they didn't.

Seeing these happy and appreciative young adults reminded me of recent articles, curiously hostile ones, attacking independent schools. One sought to characterise the sector as failing (in The Times magazine a few weeks back), and a surprising vitriolic one from The Independent's economics editor once again criticised the (overstated) tax-breaks that our schools receive, as charities.

All so negative and hostile! And all so wrong. Numbers in our schools are buoyant. the recent ISC (Independent Schools Council) census for the current year, published in April, announced that, with half a million pupils in independent schools, numbers have now exceeded the previous pre-recession high and stand at their highest level since records began in 1974. Hardly a decline.

ISC's report also tangles with the issue of percentages. Overall approximately 7% of schoolchildren are currently educated in independent schools in Britain, but as ISC writes,

'This figure hides a more complex reality.

'The likelihood of parents sending their child to an ISC school changes with age. In England over 14% of school pupils aged 16 and over attend an ISC school. At age 11, it's closer to 6% and at age 4, closer to 3%.

'More than a quarter of pupils new to the independent sector came from state-funded establishments. This happens at all ages but is most pronounced at ages 16 and above.'

There have been closures and mergers. This is the sort of correction that happens in any free sector (in the sense that independent schools operate as businesses) during tough times. Organisations change, adapt and find ways to survive. But a few don't, and I grieve for the staff and students who lose a school that they've worked in and loved.

But the sector remains strong.

And why does it? we see the evidence on a day like today, when youngsters who've had a great time here leave confident, slightly sorry to go, but actually ready and raring to do so, aware that they've had the best of opportunities and ready to grab more in the world outside. And, if there are high spirits at the moment of departure, it accounts for why those spirits are also good, genuine and warm. They know just how great an education they've received, and they've had fun doing it.

There had to be a postscript to this. At the start of the day I happened to walk into the Main Hall as a sixth-former (accidentally, I'm sure) let go of a helium balloon which floated gently up to the ceiling. It's a high one, impossible to reach without scaffolding!

Had I been an irritable man, maybe I'd have been cross. But, even had I been, one fact would have changed it. It's not just any old balloon nestling against the roof: on it in large, clear letters is written 'Thank You'.

How charming! How very RGS!

Bernard Trafford