On October 31st 2017, The Times published a story which has generated considerable debate regarding the influence of independent schools in Britain. The article asserted: "A group of only nine public schools are still producing a large share of the country’s most powerful people, with their former pupils 94 times more likely to reach the top than anyone else." The article then mentioned Merchant Taylors' as one of the nine. Some commentators jump at such stories as evidence of how the system is rigged in our favour and that we are bastions of privilege, guilty of perpetuating an unjust social order. In what is my fifth year as Head Master of Merchant Taylors' I am absolutely convinced that nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst I readily acknowledge that such schools did indeed have an excessive hold over positions of power a century ago, I would say that now we, as a sector and a school, are doing everything possible to promote social mobility, a cohesive community and socially-conscious alumni, many of whom are indeed excelling in their chosen fields.
In the past, it was common for independent schools to discriminate with regards to entry. There were deeply unjust quotas and social exclusion was a very regrettable aspect of the admissions process. At Merchant Taylors' it goes without saying that we welcome those of all backgrounds and faiths. However, we don't simply tolerate diversity we promote it. For example, we have Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Hindu societies. We also offer generous scholarships and bursaries to ensure those who might not otherwise apply are encouraged to do so. When Merchant Taylors' was founded 150 of the 250 pupils received assistance and so today we endeavour to remain faithful to our roots by providing ever more such opportunities.
As an independent school we are acutely aware of our responsibilities to the wider community. During Field Days, the School offers Music and PE days for local primary schools such as Oxhey Wood, Greenfields, Eastbury Farm and Colnbrook. In addition, the school offers a Maths Afternoon for local primary schools such as Eastbury Farm, Oxhey Wood Primary, St Joseph’s Primary, St Meryl Primary and Warren Dell. We also host a regular Science Challenge. Our pupils travel to local primary schools to support literacy by reading with those younger children that require assistance. The programme – the South Oxhey Reading Scheme – has been in existence for many years and is a valued part of the local schools’ provision. In addition, our IT Department organises computing support meetings attended by sixteen local schools. Our Careers Department have maintained their ongoing support to the local Ccmmunity. Medical applications were supported at Harefield Academy, Rickmansworth School and Dr Challoner’s High School. Law applications were supported at Harefield Academy, The Rickmansworth School and Northwood College.
At the request of local schools, our senior academic and support staff at both MTP and MTS served as volunteer Governors across ten local state schools and several staff support local Scout groups. The Sports Department supported South Oxhey schools by hosting a range of events including: indoor athletics, swimming, sports days and activity days. MTS also supports sporting programs in local schools and our facilities are used regularly by Scouts Guides. The school continues to support development of the Extended Project Qualification at Harefield Academy and Watford University Technical College (UTC) and MTS teaching staff supported Oxbridge applications at Ruislip High, Haydon School, Harefield Academy and Watford UTC.
Merchant Taylors' also takes its charitable contribution extremely seriously; we have a strong history of supporting international, national, and local charities and students organise a large number of charity events each year.
We continue to develop links with international partner schools. For example, MTP raises money for the Jinja Education Trust in Uganda and four MTP teachers visit Uganda each year to train local teachers and head teachers. In addition, the school organises regular World Challenge expeditions that support communities across the world.
Phab Week provides a wonderful residential activity programme to unite disabled and able-bodied teenagers on the basis of equality; we were the first school in the country to pioneer this extraordinary scheme and remain one of the only schools to organise this today. This has now been extended to offer a fortnightly club for local disabled children to enjoy. In addition, our Community Service boys and staff visits six different residential homes on Friday afternoons.
The school’s Charity Drive, organised by a team of senior pupils, raises funds (over £10,000 last year) during a programme of fund raising events. In addition, volunteers from across the entire school community have raised funds, food and clothing for those displaced by the Syrian conflict. The school was addressed in assembly by a refugee from Syria, to raise awareness of the conflict. The Merchant Taylors' Combined Cadet Force (run in partnership with St Helen’s) raises funds for Help for Heroes, the national charity that supports injured servicemen and ex-servicemen. Our Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme is popular and involves significant outreach to the local community.
The school has also illustrated an absolute commitment to protecting the environment and promoting sustainability. We retained our Green Flag status last year and the Sustainability Committee has supported the school’s transition towards zero landfill and encouraged pupils to embrace the new recycling systems introduced. Collaboration with the Wildlife Trust ensures that the school grounds are managed to support biodiversity. Sixth Form pupils attended school assemblies at local primary schools to present on sustainability issues. We are, of course, blessed with extraordinary facilities but we do everything we can to offer these to those living in the locality. In fact, we provide access to around 1,450 members of the public drawn from over 60 local sporting and social organisations of all age groups.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, we make no apology for offering our pupils the very best education. Our ethos is to imbue our charges with far more than a set of grades; we want them to be leaders in their fields and leave the world a better place. This might mean that they excel - and many do - but they wear their success lightly and do so without any sense of entitlement. They also care about wider society. Our alumni range from Nobel Prize-winning scientist Sir John Sulston and recent Head of Joint Forces Command, General Sir Richard Barrons to Emmy Award-winning actor Riz Ahmed and gifted entrepreneur Ryan Kohn. They are all deeply impressive men who carry themselves with enormous humility. We are justly proud of their achievements and hope that the next generation of Merchant Taylors will follow in their footsteps. At a time when the challenges faced by an uncertain world are growing ever more pressing, we feel that the country's best schools must educate with this in mind, all the while broadening access to ensure that the brightest and best can attend them irrespective of means.