Johnson wants to give top A-level pupils higher grants

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The Independent Online

A "grants for grades" plan to give extra financial help to tomorrow's brightest students was outlined by the Conservative higher education spokesman, Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson, speaking at the launch of a pamphlet outlining his personal thinking on university policy yesterday, suggested that students could be given higher grants if they obtained top grade A-level passes.

Addressing a lunchtime seminar organised by the right-wing think-tank Politeia, Mr Johnson asked his audience: "What if you decided to offer an academic bonus and for every A-grade you got a £1,000 grant?"

Mr Johnson said the scheme could be extended to offer compensation in the form of a grant for students from poorly performing schools to compensate them for their education - or offering rewards to those who took up maths and science courses.

He stressed that the idea was not Conservative Party policy but could be one of a number of suggestions considered during the party's policy review, which is expected to be concluded within the next 18 months.

One of the benefits of such a plan would be to introduce an element of competition into taking A-levels - with the result that pupils worked harder to get higher marks.

In his pamphlet, Aspire Even Higher: University Policy for the 21st century, Mr Johnson made it clear the party had ditched its support for restricting student numbers and was now in favour of education for education's sake.

He described Tory party policy at the last election - when it opposed student fees and demanded a cut in student numbers - as "a load of rubbish". "The problem was that our policy was considered elitist," he said. "We were knocking on doors and saying to people that university was not for them."

He added: "Irrespective of the economic benefits from higher education - and they are considerable - higher education is a good thing in itself, and that is what we should be getting across. I think it is a wonderful thing and it is wonderfully civilising."

Mr Johnson also claimed there was a "terrifying divide" in the UK between state and private schools. "There is an apartheid at the moment," he said.

He was speaking after a report from the education charity the Sutton Trust revealed yesterday that former private school pupils still had a remarkable stranglehold on top jobs in the media, law and government.

"A total of 45 per cent of the A- grades at A-level are achieved in the independent sector, which educates just 7 per cent of the kids," he said.

"That is terrifying and this is the crisis that is facing state education in this country."