Dr Ruth Norris is Head of Derby Grammar School. Since taking over as Head in 2018 she has opened a new Sixth Form Centre, introduced a generous programme of scholarships and introduced a new Infant School which welcomed its first pupils this September. Here she discusses the value of an independent education.Derby Grammar School, Dr Ruth Norris

Why choose an independent education for your child?

Independent schools offer striking benefits. They achieve high ‘value added’ – the measure of how a school has enabled pupils progress. Recent research suggests that by attending such schools pupils progress by the equivalent of two additional years of schooling by the age of 16. Pupils in this sector dominate the league tables in exam grades. Graduates of these schools disproportionately occupy places at the most prestigious universities and flood the most competitive professions.

How are these results achieved?

Independent education in the UK has been in existence for centuries. The sector has been empowered to develop its ‘independence’ and has thus honed many features of outstanding practice in teaching and learning, and pastoral care. Sitting outside of the restrictions on state school funding, independent schools can offer advantages such as smaller class sizes and state of the art facilities. They can invest their resources in both classroom provision as well as extensive co-curricular opportunities.

Why are co-curricular opportunities important?

In recent years holistic development of children has been increasingly valued. Independent schools have always placed emphasis here, believing in the importance of a well-rounded education. A strong academic profile opens doors in life, but so do effective soft-skills. At Derby Grammar our pupils have opportunities to develop skills of communication, team work, problem solving, creativity and leadership. This character education is experienced on the sports field, in community and charitable service and through opportunities for performing arts.

Why is independent education controversial?

It can be seen as a privilege, reserved for small elite. However, recent statistics show that 40% of independent school children do not have parents that went to independent schools themselves. Certainly, independent schools in the Midlands are a far cry from the traditional schools of the South. At Derby Grammar we offer competitive fees accessible to working parents as well as generous scholarship and bursary support and as a consequence we have a school community which is down to earth and far from elitist

Where do you begin in choosing an independent school for your child?

Wading through the eye-catching websites and brochures of schools can be overwhelming. Every school promises that your child will excel with them. However, independent schools offer significant differences. Large or small? Selective or more inclusive? Day or boarding? Single-sex or co-educational? All-through age range or primary / secondary? I always advise parents to visit a school, to ascertain its profile and to get a feel for what type of school would best suit their child.

Why choose a single-sex education?

Nowhere else can you find boys or girls as comfortable in their own skins as you can in a single-sex school. At Derby Grammar I have boys who embrace sewing club, sing soprano and act the dame. Most importantly, they do so without any reference to how these activities might not fit stereotypes. I would argue let children be children: allow them to find themselves before they have to confront the increasingly complex adult world, and relations with the opposite sex, that lie ahead.

What about academic achievement in a single-sex environment?

One of the most enjoyable boasts that I am able to make about Derby Grammar School is that we truly understand boys! We are able to build our curriculum around their strengths, and weaknesses, adapt our approaches to engage their curiosity and sustain their focus. Our co-curricular offerings are tailored to their interests. The results speak for themselves. Happy children achieve. Single-sex schools still dominate exam grade league tables, taking roughly 75% of the top 100 places.

What are the advantages of an all-through education?

One of the most significant determinants of a pupil’s success is their teachers’ knowledge of them. At Derby Grammar we offer education from Reception through to Year 13 (Sixth Form). Traditional educational transition points often present disruption. However, an all-through school offers consistency of educational approach, teaching style, peer groups and a sense of ‘place’. Our staff form long-term commitments to the well-being and success of our pupils. The accumulated benefits over time are undeniable.