Eton head master Tony Little is to join education company Gems
Eton head master Tony Little is to join education company Gems

Tony Little, the head master of Eton College, is to take up a new oversight role at the international education company Gems on his retirement from the boys’ boarding school next year.

Mr Little, who took up the Eton headship in 2002, is credited with broadening the school’s links with the state sector through sponsorship of a publicly funded boarding school in Windsor. He has also tried to defend it amid increasing public concern that its alumni – including David Cameron, prime minister, Boris Johnson, mayor of London, and Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury – are dominating the top jobs in the British establishment.

Having announced that he will retire in the summer, Mr Little said he would leave the school in September to become chief education officer at Gems, which has schools in 14 countries around the world and also offers education consultancy. In his newly created post, he will oversee education provision at Gems schools in Europe, the US, and Africa.

Mr Little is expected to work with educators and governments on raising standards and encouraging interaction between pupils at Gems schools in different countries. In particular, he will concentrate on the provision of high quality boarding facilities. Gems runs six independent schools in the UK but works in both state and private sectors internationally.

Sunny Varkey, chairman of Gems Education, said the Eton headmaster’s commitment to “holistic education and strong values” would benefit the company. Mr Little described joining Gems as a “wonderful opportunity”.

Commenting on the appointment, Sir Michael Tomlinson, former head of the schools watchdog Ofsted, said it would give the Eton head a “bigger platform to work on” and enable him to put his “wide experience” to good use beyond just one school.

“Let’s not beat about the bush . . . this is a major coup in recruiting someone of this calibre to run the Gems operation in those countries,” Sir Michael told the Financial Times.

Mr Little has not been afraid to criticise UK government education policies and warned this summer that test results were an incomplete measure of a child’s education. In an article for the Radio Times, he wrote that Britain still had an “unimaginative exam system, little changed from Victorian times”, which obliged students to “sit alone at their desks in preparation for a world in which . . . they will need to work collaboratively”.

The Eton head also cautioned ministers against seeking to emulate the teaching methods of cities such as Singapore and Shanghai, which top international test rankings. He wrote that the UK seemed intent on “creating the same straitjacket the Chinese are trying to wriggle out of” by focusing unduly on exams rather than an “all-round education”, where Britain has traditionally led the way.

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