Children in care should go to Eton too, says Letwin

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The Independent Online

Oliver Letwin, who declared last week he would rather beg than send his children to a London state school, is considering a plan that would mean children in council care being sent to private boarding schools such as Eton.

The shadow Home Secretary, an old Etonian, has launched a working group on the future of local authority care, which will explore the possibility of handing control of care homes to independent boarding schools and charities.

It will examine whether enrolling children in care in the best boarding schools will improve their prospects. Mr Letwin's latest off-beat policy idea, disclosed in an interview with The Independent, was aired as his leader, Iain Duncan Smith, was facing an investigation into his office payments by the House of Commons sleaze watchdog.

The Tory leader denied any "wrongdoing" over payments from taxpayers' funds to his wife, Betsy, for secretarial work. But questions on his future are likely to deepen tomorrow when MPs return to Parliament, and the Tories resume plotting.

Mr Letwin apologised , yesterday to his local comprehensive in London, the Lillian Baylis school in Kennington, which has a high proportion of ethnic-minority pupils, after it was identified in the press as the nearest comprehensive to the MP's London home.

He said he "did not want to castigate that particular school". But he risked inflaming the row by saying children going to such schools would have fewer prospects than those at private schools. They "do not have a chance equivalent to that which children in west Dorset schools have or which children in independent schools have", he said. Mr Letwin said his objection was not the number of children who speak English as a second language in Lambeth schools and said he "couldn't care less if they are full of immigrants".

He also denied he did not want his children to mix with children from disadvantaged backgrounds but was concerned with "the academic standards and the discipline and orderliness of the school".

He said England's most exclusive public school produced future criminals when he was there. "Wherever you go you will be amongst people who vary from saints to sinners. I was among people at Eton who have ended up in jail," he said. Mr Letwin says he has "nothing against the state sector" and would have sent his children to state schools in Dorset, where his seat is, but wanted them to be in London so he could see them more often.

The shadow Home Secretary will shortly publish a paper arguing for volunteers to go into state schools to "help with difficult children".

But the proposal is likely to anger the National Union of Teachers, which has already objected to the increasing use of parents as untrained classroom assistants in schools.