A YORK head teacher argued passionately against private schooling but lost the vote when he spoke at the world-renowned Oxford Union.

As reported in The Press last week, Huntington School head John Tomsett followed in the footsteps of Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama in speaking at the union. He debated the motion “This house believes private schools do more harm than good.”

Mr Tomsett, who is on the steering committee of the York independent-state school partnership, and is an advocate of bridging the independent-state school divide, took up the argument against private schools, but lost the debate by 78 votes to 60.

In his speech, he said: “Private schools produce some wonderful people and truly great leaders. That’s not for debate. And those great figures have contributed a huge amount of good to this country.

“Even if you just take York, my home city, the roll call is pretty impressive – Christopher Hill, Joseph Rowntree, Judi Dench, Margaret Drabble and – perhaps slightly less nobly – good old Guy Fawkes are all alumni of York’s private schools... the thing is, I believe a system of private education does something more pernicious: it separates a privileged elite from the rest of us, with some devastating consequences.

I see the harmful impact of the vast divide between rich and poor manifest itself starkly in my job as head teacher of Huntington, the largest school in York. It is a truly comprehensive school. We have the full range of students, from professors’ daughters to students from some of the worst socio-economic backgrounds in the country. Proper poverty.

“As the gap between the rich and poor widens, I see more students on free school meals, more students whose parents buy second-hand uniform and more parents who need financial support for school trips.

“In one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, it is tougher than it has ever been for a council house boy like me to make it to the top of the professions.

“And in the biggest school in York, a wealthy city in the sixth biggest economy in the world, when it rains hard, we put out 17 buckets to catch the water because the roof leaks and I can’t afford to repair it.”

Mr Tomsett was chosen to take part in the debate because of his work on The Head Teacher’s Roundtable - the non-party political group who at the beginning of May this year launched an educational manifesto - one year before the General Election.

The Oxford Union was founded in 1823 to protect and uphold the principles of freedom of speech and has grown to become the most prestigious student society in the world.