Government must launch a royal commission into ‘failing’ state system, says private school head

Brighton College headmaster calls on independent sector to lead campaign for ‘full-scale’ inquiry into state education

A leading private school head will brand England’s schools as “simply not good enough” in a speech tomorrow in which he calls for the government to launch a royal commission into state education.

Richard Cairns, headmaster of the more than £35,000-a-year Brighton College, is expected to give a speech at his own conference criticising state schools, and will call for the independent sector to lead the call for a full inquiry into the state system.

The speech is likely to go down very poorly among his state school peers, who are being forced to contend with the heaviest budget cuts since the 1970s, and a teacher recruitment crisis while managing a complete overhaul of the curriculum and the assessment system.

In a speech on the subject of leadership, the head will highlight the importance of leading on issues “beyond our own schools”, including the “failure” of the wider state school system.

“We know that the education system in our country is simply not good enough. We know that too many young people are leaving school without even the most basic skills. We know that our exam system suffocates creativity and intellectual curiosity. We know that, yes, there has been excessive grade inflation,” he will say.

“And we know that a boy or a girl in our schools is more likely to get top grades; more likely to go to a top university; more likely to get a good job; more likely to earn a good salary; even more likely to play cricket or rugby for England.

“And, privately, we all know that independent schools are the quiet beneficiaries of every failure in the school system. But for the sake of all the nation’s children, we do need to speak out and put their interests above our own narrow self-interest,” he will add.

Mr Cairns will call for a “full scale royal commission” – the first in education – in a bid to raise standards.

According to the head, there have been 37 royal commissions, on areas such as the press, the penal system and gambling but not one on education.

“Now is the time for the Prime Minister to show leadership in this area, convening a commission of experts from across the world, with an open mind, tasked with devising a new way forward for our schools,” Mr Cairns will add.

“And wouldn’t it be great if this sector, the independent sector, were to lead the way in campaigning for such a commission?”

Mr Cairns will be speaking at a conference into leadership hosted by Brighton College, which will include speakers such as schools minister Nick Gibb and historian David Starkey.

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