Looking outwards from Westholme

Independent education has certainly been in the news this week as the party political debates re-surface with the interminable build up towards the General Election in May. The education argument was resurrected the week after I had been inspecting another school and on the day I was attending the GSA Conference in London. At Westholme (along with most other independent schools) we take our charitable status seriously and are proud of our links with local state schools and further afield. Education in the United Kingdom is a right for all children –we may often take it for granted but we are fortunate to have a diverse education system which is thriving, despite frequent and unhelpful Government interference.

I fully support the idea of greater collaboration between the state and independent sectors, and there are brilliant examples of this here in Lancashire and all over the country in primary and secondary schools. To suggest that state schools teachers need help and intervention from their independent colleagues is both patronising and insulting to professional teachers who do a wonderful job educating the children in their care. We should all be working hard to ensure that parity, equality of opportunity and fairness exist – that is our responsibility. We should be sharing resources, facilities and expertise not jumping through bureaucratic hoops with the ludicrous suggestion of Government rules on inter-school sports fixtures!

Inspecting another school is a great privilege and responsibility that, despite the hard work involved, I very much enjoy. Gaining an insight into the life of another school, observing teachers and pupils and talking with students is a wonderful opportunity to see the incredible diversity of schools providing an education for children in our country. This leads me to the GSA Conference where, along with well over a hundred fellow Heads, the closing address was made by the inspirational teenager Malala Yousafzai. This diminutive 17 year old student is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize recipient. She is known mainly for human rights advocacy for education and for women in her native Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. In 2012 she was shot 3 times by extremists for her beliefs and extensive medical treatment in Birmingham saved her life. Her advocacy has since grown into an international movement.

Malala spoke eloquently and passionately about her right to an education – as a woman – but also that this right should be universal to all people regardless of religion, gender, social class, nationality or ability. Her words were heartfelt and she showed wisdom and maturity that belied her 17 years. I was honoured to be there and it was a timely reminder of how easy it is too take our right to an education for granted.

Nelson Mandela famously stated that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ Whilst Helen Keller said that ‘the highest result of education is tolerance.’ As we enter the season of goodwill and peace on earth this December, it seems appropriate to take a moment to reflect on the privilege we all share in this country, having an automatic right to an education. Stirring up tension between two education sectors that are collaborating more now than ever before, seems to be counter-intuitive, divisive and at odds with the simple message of hope and sincerity that Malala presented.

As December 2014 is upon us, I hope that we can reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and be inspired by the words, actions and forgiveness shown by a young woman, now being educated in a GSA school, who is truly grateful for the privilege of an education, which we accept as a right.

Lynne M Horner

1st December 2014