Independent boarding schools get £10,000 to take vulnerable children

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The Independent Online

Private boarding schools are being offered government grants of £10,000 to take in vulnerable children whose parents are on the verge of breaking up.

The decision to make direct payments to schools is an acknowledgement by the Government that earlier attempts to persuade local authorities to back the scheme have had a disappointing response.

The grants initiative is part of an attempt by ministers to promote closer collaboration between the state and private sector which will be the focus of a White Paper on education, 21st Century Schools, to be published next week.

The Schools minister, Sarah McCarthy-Fry, in her first speech on private schools since assuming responsibility for the sector two weeks ago, said 90 boarding schools – and 24 of England's 150 local authorities – had already pledged to offer places to children at risk of being taken into care.

Earlier attempts to promote the programme had identified 76 children who could benefit from the programme, only half of whom had been offered places. However, research had found evidence that it could help prevent family break-up by giving parents some respite and so avoiding children being taken into care.

Ms McCarthy-Fry said she hoped the Government's new drive, which would give grants directly to the boarding school, would help overcome "prejudice" against the scheme.

"We're encouraging more authorities to take part but there's a reluctance to take it on board," she said.

"Now we have some evidence as to how this is turning children's lives around. Intervention before the family breaks up and before they're taken into care prevents family break-up."

Speaking at the Independent Schools Council's conference in London yesterday, she also announced a £4m grant towards promoting closer collaboration between the sectors.

She cited one scheme in which teachers at the King's School in Ely, Cambridgeshire, a fee-paying school, had joined forces with those at three neighbouring state schools to plan their lessons together in an attempt to raise teaching quality and stretch their brightest pupils further.

"State schools should be able to benefit from the success of the independent sector," she said. "We can only ensure the best for all our pupils if we work in partnership across the sectors."

Independent schools are taking more than their fair share of the country's teachers, according to new research published today. They employ 14 per cent of the country's teachers despite educating fewer than 8 per cent of the nation's pupils, having used money from steadily increasing fees income to reduce class sizes.

The research, by a team at the London School of Economics, is published in the magazine of the Centre for Economic Performance today. It also reveals that the private sector finds it much easier to recruit teachers of shortage subjects in secondary schools, such as maths and languages.