Independent School Associations

Education is filled with acronyms and the independent schools sector is no different. If you are new to the sector, or applying for independent school jobs for the first time, it can be quite confusing. HMC, GSA, ISA, ISC. Sometimes you may see a school that is a member of more than one: how confusing! This article is designed to give you an insight into the world of independent schools associations.

Probably, the first and most important to be aware of is the Independent Schools Council (ISC). The ISC is there to promote and defend the interests of the sector. It brings together seven of the largest other associations and represents over 1200 independent schools in the UK, roughly half. The ISC can provide research, legal, regulatory and press services for its members. It is highly desirable to be an ISC member for reputation, credibility and support. If you are a member of the ISC, you are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) which is a DfE accredited body and essentially Ofsted for independent schools.

So what does the ISC consist of?

The Girls School Association (GSA) is the main association to which Heads of girls senior independent schools belong to. It currently has around 260 members nationwide and aims to provide professional support and represent the views and values of girls’ education.

The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) represents the Heads of over 280 boys’, girls’ and co-educational independent senior schools. They also have over 50 international members. Today, the HMC can represent boys, girls and coed schools. However, historically it represented the boys (and later coed) public schools and so today many girls schools will not be HMC members, but rather GSA members. An HMC membership is what comes to typically define a “public school”, they are usually private, selective, and traditional fee paying schools. The HMC is very influential in the independent sector in setting and discussing standards and practice. It also helps influence national education policy. As an example, this year’s HMC conference had a big debate about mental health within schools and how it should be addressed.

The Independent Association of Prep schools (IAPS) represents the Heads of 620 schools in the UK and overseas for children aged from 2 to 16+. Typically, their schools are up to age 11 or 13. The majority of IAPS schools are in the UK, but other locations include Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

IAPS commits itself to providing and promoting excellence in education. It provides its members with a national voice on matters of independent Prep school education, and seeks to have a positive influence on public opinion of Prep schools.

Independent Schools Association (ISA) is an association of around 300 independent Nursery, Prep, Senior and Sixth Form Colleges in the UK. Similar to the above associations but a smaller membership and representing a less niche group of schools. The organisation offers professional support and training for Headteachers and staff of its member schools, as well as sport and cultural activities for pupils.

The Society of Heads (SoH) represents the Heads of independent schools of all sizes, many of which have a long tradition of boarding. It has nearly 40 members in the UK across single sex, coed, boarding and day as well as special needs schools and specialist arts/music schools. Many SoH members are also members of other associations too. It’s a networking and partnership organisation again designed to promote continued professional development and promote the interests of the sector, aimed at a Headteacher level.

Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools (AGBIS) – represents the interests of the governing bodies of ISC schools. It is there to specifically support and advise the governors of a school. Governing bodies are automatically entered if their Headteachers are members of HMC, GSA, IAPS or HMC.

Independent School Bursars Association (ISBA) – supports and advises the bursars and senior management of more than 1000 independent schools across the UK and overseas. It is designed to assist schools staff in the successful financial, administrative and operational management of the school and is there to advise best practice, offer professional development and improve networking.

These are the main associations to be aware of as a starting point. They all come under the umbrella of the ISC and share the fundamental aims of promoting the interests of the sector, advising best practice and improving networking. The independent sector can often be criticised for being insular, however it is a merely just a very well connected group and these associations facilitate that. Ultimately, it has led to the very high standards we see in UK independent schools compared with other country’s independent sectors.


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