Schools 'tsar' wants higher top-up fees for privately educated

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The Independent Online

A senior Government adviser is to demand that students whose parents sent them to private schools pay higher fees for their university education.

Professor Tim Brighouse, the Government's London schools "tsar" and a former vice-chairman of its school standards task force, will call for an extra 10 per cent charge to be levied on top-up fees for every year a child spent at a private school.

The plan, which is understood to be favoured by some Labour opponents of the Government's present plans, would mean those who spent their entire secondary schooling in the independent sector facing fees of more than £5,000 a year. Ministers plan to confirm universities can charge students a maximum of £3,000 from 2006 when legislation is published next week.

Professor Brighouse, in a keynote education address next Wednesday to the North of England education conference, will argue that they should pay more because they have already bought themselves an advantage in education and a head start in obtaining a university place. Their parents have also already shown they are prepared to pay up to £18,000 a year for their children's education.

Professor Brighouse, who has been selected to chair the conference, will tell delegates, including Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education: "There is a strong case for top-up fees, which are, quite frankly, like a graduate tax." However, he will argue that existing graduates who have left university should also be encouraged to pay towards the cost of their higher education, possibly by offering them a tax break if they take a covenant out towards university costs.

He will also argue that, if parents switch from the private sector to the state system for A-levels (possibly at a sixth-form college), they should then be given a 15 per cent discount on the cost of their fees.

The chairman's address to the conference, to be held in Belfast, traditionally sets the scene for educational debate during the forthcoming year. "I think that the Government's direction is absolutely right," he said in an interview with The Independent. "My only caveat is they are not being bold enough. Over two years at a sixth-form college would earn parents a reduction of 30 per cent."

The former secretary of state for health, Frank Dobson argues that students whose parents sent them to private schools should be made to pay the same amount as the cost of their private schooling, although he remains opposed to the idea of top-up fees. Professor Brighouse will also argue the case for a radical new education "voucher" for schools. Advocates of a voucher system have mainly been on the right of the political spectrum. They say parents could be given a flat-rate voucher they could use to help pay for a place at the school of their choice. But, next week, he will make the case for a social voucher to help the less well-off and pupils who are struggling at school.

He will outline a plan to give secondary schools a £2,000 voucher for three years for every pupil they take on that has failed to reach the required standard in national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds.