Chapter 5: The best of both worlds - state and private

FBS is an independent, government-funded school. Our aspiration remains (and one that will be the same for all our schools) to be among the very best schools in the country - state or private. But how can we realistically compete with the top private schools in the country? With all their money, history, tradition and resources?

1. Independence
1.1 The chances of reaching the top in law or politics or business is still very much greater if you went to an independent school. These schools, as well as succeeding with academic achievement, tend to be at an advantage in developing essential skills such as confidence, articulacy and team work which are vital to career success.

1.2 There is a huge amount to be learnt from the success of the traditional fee-paying independent schools in developing confidence, building aspiration and nurturing tomorrow’s leaders. And we have no shame in admitting we have drawn on the experience of the best of them. Our independence means we can choose to run longer school days, create a culture of enterprise and expectation and invest time and expertise in nurturing soft skills through a broad co-curricular programme: music, sport, drama, debating, art and all the other opportunities that go into developing the whole child, way beyond the classroom. This all requires exceptionally inspiring and dedicated staff. It means juggling budgets, term times and school hours to ensure a consistent focus on instilling those skills across the curriculum. But this does not mean fees.

2. Comprehensive in the best sense of the word
2.1 As a non fee-paying school, we are able to draw from a far wider cross-section of pupils than private schools. When it comes to preparing pupils for life, this gives FBS a huge advantage. FBS must rank as one of the most comprehensive schools in the country: 35% private school boys rubbing shoulders with 40% young men living in social deprivation; 15% black Caribbean, 13% Black African, 10% Asian. Our boys learn valuable lessons from mixing with each other, crossing socioeconomic divides, and learning from each other’s perspectives, rather than falling back on ‘groupthink’. No boy is allowed to use his upbringing or background as an excuse for not meeting our high standards, or as a barrier to achievement. Furthermore, how can you learn to be resilient, solve problems and make the best of things if everything is always served on a silver plate? FBS has been set up to provide for all Fulham boys, not for a particular type of Fulham boy.

2.2 I question whether students are going to be prepared for life by drawing on the groupthink of a restricted socio-economic cohort. Will tomorrow’s world need leaders who have learnt about the world from within a gilded cage, or will it need those who have developed a broader understanding by learning from and with a rather more diverse mix of backgrounds, cultures and beliefs?

3. Culture
3.1 It comes down to creating the right culture. A culture of high expectations and aspirations. As a free school meal boy who grew up in the Welsh valleys, I am very aware of all the untapped talent that is in this country; talent that will never cross the threshold of fee-paying schools regardless of bursaries and ‘needs blind’ admissions. Some of the most enterprising, creative and resilient people I ever met were at the top of the Rhondda Valley and on the back streets of Ebbw Vale! I will never accept that the brightest minds, sharpest intellects, greatest leaders, statesmen, orators and captains of industry in this country just happen to all be from the upper classes. Up until now, they may have had the best opportunities and gone to the best schools. It is now the great chance and responsibility of The Fulham Boys School, and every other school that joins our MAT, to take the talent that is going to waste in this country, nurture it in an environment of high expectations and expose it to outstanding teaching. It is all about creating the right culture. A culture that when Ofsted visited FBS, they described as ‘incredible’, and one that we would want to see and feel in all our schools.

3.2 Getting rid of private schools would be a denial of people’s freedom. But we do want it to be seen as crazy for someone to spend £250,000 on school fees when they could go to a ‘top’ school for free.

3.3 A few years ago I read a great book called ‘Fire in Bablyon.’ It is about the great West Indian cricket teams that boasted players like Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Michale Holding, Gordon Grenidge, Desmond Haynes and Jeffrey Dujon. There is a fantastic anecdote in the book about a West Indian bus driver in the West Midlands telling his son about the first time the West Indies beat England in a Test match. He says, “The first time we beat them wasn’t the big thing. It was Lord’s son – going into their own backyard and taking their chickens out of the coop and frying them on the front lawn. For me son, the empire collapsed right there. Not Churchill or Wellington could bring it back. Shackles were gone and we were free at last because the chickens were out of the coop.”

3.4 Our vision is to go into the established order’s backyard over the next few years and take those chickens out of the coop and fry them on the front lawn.