Parents 'should not feel guilt over private education'

An end to the culture whereby parents are made to feel guilty if they pay for their children to go to private schools was demanded by Britain’s leading independent schools today.

The call came in the first-ever “manifesto for education” produced by the Independent Schools Council to coincide with the impending general election campaign.

Many parents made significant sacrifices to scrimp and save to pay fees because they believed they were buying a better education, the ISC manifesto argued today.

“In exercising their freedom of choice in this way parents should not have to fear the imposition of artificial barriers or discrimination or be made to feel guilty,” it added.

Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference – which represents 250 of the top traditionally boys’ only independent schools, condemned wealthy parents who sent their children to state schools for claiming the moral high ground.

Mr Grant, head of St Alban’s School in Hertfordshire, said: “It irritates me that there are people living in my own city in £3million houses driving BMW seven series, taking three or four holidays a year and sending their children to the local comprehensive – which is really good because it draws on that particular catchment area – and feeling they have the moral ground.

“Why do they feel guilty or why is there moral pressure not to use your disposable income for the education of your children but you can use it quite happily in other ways?

Lord Patten, chancellor of Oxford University, addressing a conference in London to launch the manifesto today, said he suspected that families on free school meals would be “sorely tempted” to send their son to Eton or a similar private school if they won the lottery.

“Would we regard that as an anti-social or immoral course of action?” he asked.

“Would we regard the act of paying for education as wrong but have been happy to see the lottery winnings spent on fast cars or splashy foreign holidays.

The manifesto also claimed the Charity Commission was “acting illegally” in its interpretation of the new “public benefit” test independent schools had to pass to retain charitable status.

The ISC said legal advice had indicated it was interpreting its role too narrowly by focusing on the number of bursaries schools offered students from poorer homes – and ignoring their attempts to offer state schools the use of sport, music and drama facilities.

Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas, chairman of the ISC, said “It has been very unbalanced.”

She said the ISC could take legal action against the Commission.