Plan to open up top private schools to all

Political parties urged to fund scheme that would select on academic merit, not ability to pay

A radical plan to allow all children "open access" to many of Britain's top independent schools, regardless of their parents' financial backgrounds, was unveiled yesterday.

More than 80 private day schools – including Westminster, Manchester Grammar and City of London Boys' – have already pledged their support for the scheme. If given the go-ahead, it would allow more than 30,000 bright pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to take up places in leading independent schools.

The proposal, in effect, would turn the schools into a mirror image of existing state grammar schools, offering places to the cleverest children based on academic merit, regardless of their background.

The plan was devised by Sir Peter Lampl, the chairman of the Sutton Trust education charity, which is campaigning to get more pupils from poorer backgrounds into top schools and universities.

He is holding discussions with the three main political parties with a view to getting a commitment to include it in their 2015 election manifestos.

Speaking to the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) in Belfast yesterday, Sir Peter said: "We got rid of academic selection in the 1970s and this has simply been replaced by social selection.

"Put simply it is very difficult for children from less privileged backgrounds to move up in society and it is more difficult than it used to be. Things have got worse."

Under the scheme, schools would operate an "open access" policy in which all pupils would be selected on academic rather than economic merit. It has already been tried out at Belvedere, a girls' school in Liverpool where children from poorer families had their tuition funded through Sir Peter's charity. As a result, 30 per cent were offered free places and a further 40 per cent received some financial support.

Sir Peter conceded that the success of the expanded scheme hinged on securing government finance for it but argued that the cost of subsidising places was less than it would have been to pay for a state education for all of the pupils selected.

He argued that, while the Labour Party appeared to be "hung up" about selection in schools, his scheme would not create any more selective places than existed in the system at present. "We are not proposing to extend or increase selection," he added. "Open access would simply democratise existing selection."

Sir Peter said that, once the go-ahead had been given to 80 schools signed up for a pilot scheme, many others would want to follow suit.

If the "open access" intake to these 80 schools was similar to that at Belvedere, he said, the Sutton Trust had calculated that the scheme would cost £180m a year.

Gove's policies 'are incoherent and too rushed'

A senior Tory attacked Michael Gove's school reforms as "incoherent", saying the Education Secretary should "stop taking the urgency pills and recognise the need to slow down".

Graham Stuart, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, told the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference in Belfast that he thought plans to abolish GCSEs in England, and to introduce a new English baccalaureate by 2015, were "ill conceived".

Mr Gove's rapid agenda for change had led to "incoherence, with urgent timelines which can't be done", Mr Stuart said. "Stop changing things all the time."

Mr Stuart, the MP for Beverley and Holderness, said that ministers appeared not to be listening to the voices of education professionals and, as a result, "[government policy] doesn't seem very coherent". He added: "If there is clear thinking going on in the department, it has so far escaped the chairman of the Education Select Committee."

Richard Garner

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Guru Careers: Product Training Specialist / Software Trainer

£25 - 32,500K (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Produ...

Recruitment Genius: Unqualified NVQ Assessors - Health, Social Care & Management

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence