Royal Grammar School





There’s been a curious spat in the educational world this week. The Chairman of the Independent Schools Association (which tends to represent the smaller schools within the sector) announced that the state sector has lost its moral compass. Of course his pronouncement hit headlines, particularly among those elements of the Press that like to knock state schools.

So yesterday morning I found myself connected by phone to BBC Radio Newcastle’s Alfie and Charlie show, debating with a local primary head. Inevitably there wasn’t much of a debate: we agreed with one another!  

The Chairman of ISA was out of order. It’s absurd to say that there’s no moral compass in state schools. It is true that the maintained sector is harried by government and by OFSTED acting as its Rottweiler. State schools are constantly pushed to achieve benchmarks and targets, and whatever they do is never good enough. That all too easily creates a perception in the public mind that schools are only about results. The funny thing is that, to outsiders at any rate, it’s sometimes thought that academically selective schools such as the RGS lean the same way, exam- and-results-driven.  

In both cases that perception is inaccurate. As I said on the radio, the school heads I mix with (and through fantastic organisations such as SCHOOLS NorthEast) my opposite numbers are all driven by a moral imperative, not to mention a vocation, to create the best of opportunities for the children in their schools and to help them eventually to develop into confident, articulate, generous, thoughtful and responsible young adults, ready to take their place in society. That’s what education’s about.

Those who know the RGS know that, although high achievement in terms of results is of great importance (and there’s no point denying that things are pretty tense at this time of year), it isn’t what drives the school above all. We are passionate about our commitment to education in the broadest sense, knowing that the extracurricular compliments the curricular, and that as many life lessons are learnt outside the classroom as in it. It is, at bottom, a holistic approach.  

Of course all schools have a moral compass: we see it as a central part of our task as educators to pass that on to the boys and girls in our schools. The accusation against the state sector grabbed some headlines – but, in the end, it was mere grandstanding. The truth is much more complex than that: trouble is, complexity doesn’t make for good and simple headlines. If I had a pound for every time I’ve made the mistake of saying to a politician or reporter, “It’s not as simple as that….”, and then seen their eyes glaze over, I’d be a rich man.

But it is our very moral compass that keeps us on track through all those complexities. Let’s try to remember that.  

Bernard Trafford