Reflections from HMC

Last Monday morning, I travelled to London to attend the annual HMC Heads’ Conference immortalised by John Cleese’s 1986 film Clockwise. HMC was founded in 1869 by Edward Thring, Headmaster of Uppingham, whose intention was to set up a society and annual conference for the leaders of independent schools like his own. Despite the fact that only 14 Headmasters turned up to the very first conference, HMC has grown ever since and now counts close to 300 Heads amongst its number.

The three-day conference allows school leaders some time and space to network, discuss the most pressing issues of the day, and listen to leading voices on areas such as leadership, universities, teenage mental health and cognitive neuroscience. You may have seen a number of news stories in the national press coming out of the event. This year’s conference was meant to be a 150th birthday celebration but the recent Labour Party Conference cast something of a shadow over proceedings as Heads wondered whether this might be one of the last HMC conferences ever to take place. Would our schools even exist in 12 months’ time if the Labour Party won a majority at the next election?

As a first-time attendee, I enjoyed talking to so many different Heads from a wide variety of different independent schools, and it was abundantly clear that we are all trying to do more than we have ever done before in two specific areas: firstly, to make our schools more accessible to a broader range of families; and, secondly, to engage in more meaningful partnership work with colleagues and pupils from the state sector. Every HMC school has a different story to tell in this regard, but every Head with whom I spoke was pursuing these courses of action not as a tick-box exercise to satisfy some arbitrary public benefit test for the Charities Commission, but because they genuinely believe that it is the right thing to do morally, socially and educationally.

At Wellington, things are no different. The College was built, not just as the national memorial to the first Duke of Wellington, but also to provide a free education for the orphaned sons of soldiers. It is a source of great pride to me that we are still able to offer this sort of education to Foundationers to this day. We are also committing more financial resources to means-tested bursaries than ever before, and Murray Lindo and I will continue to commit our fundraising efforts to widening access to Wellington, with a particular focus on our Prince Albert Foundation, a scheme which enables children from backgrounds of limited means to enjoy the transformational experience of a Wellington education. If ever we needed an example of the power of this programme, one of our most recent Prince Albert Foundation graduates starts at Cambridge University this week.

In terms of broader partnership work, we continue to be part of the Wellington College Teaching School Partnership working alongside nearly 20 state schools, as well as running a very successful Independent State Schools Partnership which has had a direct impact on thousands of children from local communities over the past 11 years. We maintain our support across a number of different areas to our Academies in Wiltshire, and the Wheeler Programme goes from strength to strength every year – a programme which allows up to 100 children from partner state schools to experience a Wellington education and enjoy residential weeks at the College twice a year. There are also numerous individual projects which see Wellingtonians go into local primary and secondary schools on a weekly basis.

Only time will tell whether the Labour Party will win the next election but, regardless of the colour of the next government, Wellington College will continue to do as much as we can in terms of widening access and facilitating broader public benefit, just as was the case in 1859 when we opened our doors to our very first Foundationers.

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