Private college cuts its old-school ties

A fee-paying institution in Liverpool is the latest to become an academy

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The Independent Online

One of the country's most prestigious independent schools is to become one of the Government's flagship academies this September, as part of an exodus of schools from the private to the state sector.

Liverpool College, founded in 1843, is one of the 12 founder members of the Headmasters' (now Headmasters' and Headmistresses') Conference, which represents 250 of the country's leading independent schools. It is the Government's most significant catch since it started encouraging private schools to switch sector.

The decision will bring to 21 by September the number of independent schools that have joined the state sector, either as academies or one of the Government's new free schools. The King's School in Tynemouth will also become an academy this year.

Three more independent schools will become free schools in 2014, including Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in Blackburn, also an HMC school, and Chetwynde in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

The former Labour schools minister Lord Adonis, who acted as a catalyst for Liverpool College's conversion, said: "I expect dozens more to follow before long."

The school faced a dilemma if it wanted to expand and bring its pupil numbers back up to when it had 1,100 on roll. The school currently has 735 four- to 18-year-olds.

Its brochure outlining the decision for the switch says: "Demand for the type of education provided by Liverpool College is high but the number of Liverpool parents who can afford the fees [of £10,000 a year] is relatively low. Research has shown that the number of families able to afford the fees at Liverpool College is shrinking and is likely to continue to shrink in the future – thereby decreasing the demand for places at the college while the demand and need for high-quality education will continue."

Hans van Mourik Broekman, the school's principal, said the switch would help the school to retain its founders' commitment to provide a good standard of education for the people of Liverpool. "It was a question of what was the right course to follow," he said. "The vision of the founders was that it would really serve the people of Liverpool. Since the disappearance of the assisted places scheme, it has become increasingly difficult for the people we seek to serve to pay these fees."

The school is planning to increase its intake in the first year of the secondary school from 75 to 100 pupils, and from 40 to 50 in the primary. Over a five-year period, numbers will rise to 1,100.

It will retain a boarding element, with pupils receiving their day-to-day education free but paying for the boarding accommodation. There will also be a separate Liverpool College International for 10 overseas sixth-form students – the income from which will be ploughed into the academy.

It will operate a banding system for admissions – taking equal numbers of pupils from different ability ranges – and also operate a lottery system for some of the places to prevent better-off parents from pushing up house prices by moving into the catchment area.

Mr Broekman said: "Two-thirds of our parents are strongly in favour and 22-23 per cent were agnostic. Ten per cent of parents would rather we had not done this. Only two parents have withdrawn their children."

Lord Adonis predicted that within a couple of decades, as fee-paying schools become virtually extinct, people might look back and wonder why Britain ever had such a divisive system of education.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education added: "We welcome Liverpool College's decision to join the state sector and the high-quality provision it will bring to pupils in the area."