Education: A little bit of charity goes a long way

Though the assisted places scheme has been abolished, Elaine Williams reports that many independent schools are refusing to let the ethos behind it die. Inventive, and painful, ways are being found of offering disadvantaged pupils a high-standard education

While the loss of assisted places is mourned by the independent sector, many schools are also taking the chance to redefine their role in society.

Some notable ex-direct grant, academic inner-city day schools have launched well-publicised appeals to match place for place at least, the funding provided under the former government scheme. In particular, the 25 members of the Girls Day School Trust, which includes Bath, Portsmouth and South Hampstead High Schools, have announced a pounds 70m scheme to rescue all 3,000 of their assisted places.

Michael Oakley, the Trust's bursar, said the appeal was directed to former pupils in particular: "We are philosophically committed to maintaining access to schools on merit as opposed to wealth, so we are phasing in a direct replacement and we have had a good response. We have been building up a fund for the last 10 years in preparation for the abolition of assisted places."

Manchester Grammar School is also targeting former pupils in its bid to raise pounds 10m for a fund that will create a new kind of "free access" independent schooling, covering the fees of every pupil from a deprived background who passes its entrance examination. In addition, wealthy parents and old boys will be asked to sponsor a pupil for a minimum of a year. Currently 250 boys out of 1,500 receive state subsidy because of their economic circumstances, but the school's own scheme aims to take the concept further.

This is much in the spirit of Christ's Hospital in Sussex, a co-educational, academic boarding school, established by Edward VI in 1552 to educate destitute children from the streets of London. Although 60 children at the school currently enjoy a government assisted place, almost all of the remaining 740 gain places on the back of financial assistance from the school. "We give out about pounds 6m worth of education every year," said Elizabeth Cairncross, the school's deputy head, "and we shall use our own resources to cover the loss of assisted places."

The school's "enormous" fund is continually topped up by former pupils. Their contribution is central to the school and its culture, said Mrs Cairncross: "At their leaving ceremony, pupils are charged never to forget the benefits they have received, and in time to come, according to their means, to ensure that others are able to receive the same benefits. Later, when they are established in work and their own children have grown up, many do contribute."

One of the principal ways in which former pupils give is through the "donation governors scheme" . This covers the cost of putting a child through the school for a year and is given over time or in one lump sum. Also, the governor, or sponsor, often becomes a personal mentor or friend to the child and his or her family. "It's a very personal scheme," said Mrs Cairncross, "and it works very well. Giving money so that other children can have the advantage you have had, is very much part of our culture and I think that other schools can build that into theirs."

Dick Davison, deputy director of the Independent Schools Information Service, said that many independent school heads were prepared to rise to the "challenge" and remained committed to helping low-income families. He felt there would indeed be a shift in the nature of appeals. He stated: "Schools have been able to raise impressive amounts of money for buildings, but I think there will be a shift in the direction of appeals towards the funding of places.

"Most governing bodies think their schools have something to offer bright children and wish those children who cannot afford independent education to continue to benefit."

Not all schools have large foundations or enjoy a strong civic presence and many are aware that the consequences of filling up their schools with fee -payers would be to broaden their intake and risk lowering their standards.

The King Edward VII and Queen Mary boys and girls schools in Lytham, Lancashire, which have just under half of their intake from assisted places, plan to merge by 1999, reducing two schools of 500 with a three-form entry to one school with a four-form entry. The schools argue that they would need a pounds 17m fund to replace their assisted places, which is "out of the question", and that merger is one way of maintaining their standards and ethos.

Newcastle under Lyme School, a 1,300-strong co-educational day establishment, is also planning to reduce in size over time. At present, 64 pupils every year, about one third , are admitted on assisted places. In future, the school intends to fund between 20-25 pupils every year from its own bursary scheme and shrink from a 180-strong entry to 120. Dr Ray Reynolds, the school's principal said: "We have been building up the bursary fund for some time. We do want pupils to come who can benefit. Up to 50 per cent of our children on APs are from families with an income of less than pounds 10,000. We haven't got endowments or resources hidden away so the only way to retain the nature of the school is to shrink in size."

Nottingham High School currently has 180 out of 830 boys on assisted places. In future, 70 boys will be funded from the school's own scholarships, raised from long-standing contributions from key local companies like Boots and Raleigh. Wisbeach Grammar in Cambridgeshire, which has over 50 per cent of pupils on assisted places (more than 300) - the highest number in the country - is seeking to restructure by opening up a junior department. It has also received a donation from the Weetabix Foundation to fund up to 25 places.

Rural boarding schools with assisted places, such as Denstone College in Staffordshire, are having to think more radically. Mr David Derbyshire, the headmaster, who has been in post for little more than a year, admits that he inherited a school with "too many assisted places" - one third out of 335 pupils. As a means of making up the eventual shortfall he has dramatically reduced fees by over pounds 2,500 taking them to as low as pounds 4,500 for day and pounds 8,950 for boarding. He stated: "Apart from APs there were all sorts of private deals going on. We wanted an honest fee structure that would make our provision available to many more people."

Mr Derbyshire is currently lobbying the Government for a scheme that would assist working parents to benefit from children boarding and the longer days that boarding schools provide. He said: "Our school day goes from 8.30am to 6.30pm - that includes sport, music, drama and 70 per cent of my staff live on campus. Parents can be sure that their children are safe and enjoying a totality of education until they finish work."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us