Peter Phillips, headmaster of S. Anselm’s in Bakewell, looks at the changing face of education

In an ever changing and complex world we are all bombarded with choice, allegedly. We have a wider choice of clothes, food, cars, homes, healthcare and education than ever before. However, the illusion of choice is perhaps greater than the reality. So often the choice available will be self-regulating in terms of geography, government policy or finances.

Education, education, education has purportedly been at the heart of so many government policies but what has it meant for the children our system seeks to educate? With our increasingly uncertain economic outlook fewer parents are sure they can commit to paying for private education, particularly if they are aware of how those costs have increased in direct relation to absolute income. Yet if they cannot buy a house in the right village or are out of catchment for the school they want, what is their choice?

Recent initiatives regarding free schools and academies all sound wonderful in their incarnation. However, they are dependent upon the whim of Government and the vested interest of groups. There is a whiff of ‘short termism’. Is there any long-term strategy or is education being used as a political football? Is it attempting to appease aspiring families but once again, I fear, failing to realise ludicrously high expectations.

Even in the private sector the landscape is changing. More and more prep schools are closing or being subsumed by a senior school, particularly those north of the Oxford gap. Most independent schools are based in cities, with all the attendant problems of commuting and potential exposure to situations from which we may wish to protect our children. So, in rural Derbyshire what can a parent do?

Parents now want to be involved on a daily basis with their children, and their education. They no longer necessarily want to be going to school or travelling two hours to a match at the weekend. As we all know long gone are the days when children mooched around on their own in the holidays, returning home for supper with no contact with their parents from dawn to dusk; children’s time is much more structured and directed by their parents. Numerous articles have been written about our busy young; zooming from Mandarin class to gymnastics to rugby, all on one night.

Looking at a map charting the location of boarding schools they are increasingly centred around London, as is their intake. Many more parents want to make the choice to opt in to boarding when it suits them as a family, and their child as an individual. As with most schools S. Anselm’s has responded to that change for a while now with more flexible boarding. The number of 8 year olds coming to board has decreased markedly, although most of years 7 and 8 still choose to do so: even if they are not going on to board at 13.

The move to GCSEs at S. Anselm’s with its competitive fee structure in its own small way hopes to give the local population more choice for their secondary schooling. Even those parents who may have considered they would never pay for education may find this an attractive proposition.

Size is important. A school where individuals remain individuals and values are shared, is critical. Too many schools are simply too big and too impersonal, often failing in their objectives and failing the mass. Tradition and traditional values where kindness and care are imbued in our community remain valued. They are essential in a child’s mind – where security and constancy are integral to a child’s ability to experiment and try new things; where things may go wrong but if so it is in an environment where the result is resilience and the ability to try again, not a feeling of failure.

A community where staff and pupils are truly valued and where people work in unison is very much the key to success and ultimately choice. The future of education is about choice and genuine choice will make a real difference.

Peter Phillips has been Headmaster of S. Anselm’s since 2012 and was previously at Cundall Manor, Yorkshire. He has worked in education for over 25 years and was a surveyor before he saw the light.