Friday, 20 May 2011

Rugby and the Arnold Foundation

Headteacher of Rugby - article in the Guardian

While it was pleasing to see the infamous Captain Flashman get his big break in writing the Guardian's leader column, the portrait he paints of boarding schools as "costly" institutions "stuffed full of prim nonsense" is highly erroneous (Unthinkable? Flashman and the prime minister, 14 May).

Public-school pupils are not thick upper-class twits, and his own alma mater, Rugby school, bucks the caricature that he so delights in casting.

Expanding access beyond a narrow, privileged elite has been at the heart of Rugby's ethos from the moment it was founded. A bursary programme, the Lawrence Sheriff Bequest, was established upon the school's foundation in 1567, offering scholarships to day boys (and now girls) who lived within a radius of 10 miles from the school. This still continues. Rugby was never meant to be a school peppered with what Flashman calls a "gang of chaps … who've never done a hard day's work in their life". Nor has it become one.

Ensuring education is a liberating force among young people continues to be our focus. Instead of cherry-picking the best students from the maintained sector, we now provide an opportunity for children from deprived areas to come to the school, and give those who face difficult conditions at home the chance to take advantage of the benefits of boarding.

In 2003 the school established the Arnold Foundation, which offers fully funded places to a small but significant number of young people who have the ability to gain from the boarding experience but are unable to afford the fees. We work with two educational charities, IntoUniversity and Eastside Young Leaders' Academy, which help us identify candidates with the greatest potential and character, and also work with a number of maintained schools across the UK. The charities and the schools we work with recognise that long-term pastoral engagement with young people is the key to raising aspiration.

Arnold Foundation pupils are encouraged to be themselves. They are not torn from their roots, and do not morph into mini-Flashmen or women who are unrecognisable by the time they return home. Rather, they become role models: of those who have left Rugby already, one is a professional rugby player and all the others are either at, or set to attend, leading universities.

The knock on-effect of this is clear: work by the National Foundation for Educational Research has found that Arnold Foundation pupils heighten the aspirations of other young people they work with at home and at school, with families reporting pride in their children's achievements. Heads of partner schools welcome the initiative as a way to address the "poverty of ambition" in their local communities.

I suspect our celebrated fictional alumnus now has his mind too firmly fixed on the higher things in life to consider the surroundings of his youth. But it would not do him harm to revise his outdated view of who exactly is fit to be a pupil at his former school.

My letter in response - unpublished

I couldn't decide if headmaster of Rugby, Patrick Derham's article in
'Response' (Flashman's elistist idea... 18/5/11) was an example of
severe, selective amnesia, or whether he is utterly and completely
ignorant of the history of the school that he leads.

He makes the extraordinary claim that, 'Expanding access beyond a
narrow, privileged elite has been at the heart of Rugby's ethos from
the moment it was founded'.

The school was indeed founded by the Lawrence Sheriff Bequest in 1567,
offering free scholarships to boys who lived within five miles of Rugby
and Brownsover.

When Thomas Arnold was appointed as headmaster in 1828 he accelerated
the process whereby Rugby was transformed into a school with national
appeal that exclusively attracted the upper classes. The numbers of
fee-paying pupils were increased and local ties were loosened by
creating a narrow scholarship ladder. The lower school was
progressively neglected and starved of funding, it presented the only
opportunity for lower middle class boys to learn the classics that were
vital for entry to the upper school.

When the Clarendon Commission investigated in 1864 Rugby had 68
foundationers and 397 fee-paying pupils. However even in the case of
the foundationers, the scholarship boys, they noted an influx of
wealthy families intent on establishing local residence to avail
themselves 'of education given on very easy terms'.

By 1878 the original aims of the foundation had been so shamelessly
breached that Rugby joined Harrow in establishing a separate
'consolation' school, Lawrence Sheriff School, to educate local
children from the lower classes.

Patrick Derham does mention the Arnold Foundation, established in 2003,
to offer fully funded scholarships to Rugby. As for the 'small but
significant' number, we are talking about 40 children.

I'm not claiming it is the case at Rugby, but there are well-documented
cases of 'scholarship' pupils at expensive schools being derided,
teased or bullied by their wealthier peers. Fees for boarding at Rugby
are £28,000 - only the filthy rich could afford those fees.

So I'm afraid that Patrick Derham's essay attracts a Beta Minus. Could
do better. Please undertake basic research.

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