Study backs call to subsidise private education

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Private school pupils are more likely to achieve better qualifications and end up in high-paying jobs than state school students who were just as bright and from similar backgrounds, according to new research.

Students from private schools were also more likely to win Oxbridge places - and were admitted with lower grades than their state-educated counterparts.

Only 7.6 per cent of state school pupils were earning more than £70,000 in their thirties, compared to 18.2 per cent of those who were subsidised to attend private schools under the assisted places scheme and 28.6 per cent who attended private schools as full-fee payers. The assisted place scheme was established in 1980 by the Conservative government to help parents of academically bright children with the cost of private school fees on a means-tested basis. It was abolished by Labour in 1997.

Students who attended private schools on the assisted place scheme achieved better GCSE and A-level results than their state educated counterparts - and better than expected when family background and prior achievement were taken into account.

The study followed the fortunes of nearly 300 students from their schools into the workplace over 23 years. It tracked 62 academically able pupils who went to independent schools on assisted places in 1982 and compared their school careers and working lives with 152 students of similar intelligence and backgrounds who went to state schools as well as 82 full-fee payers at private schools.

The report, by academics from London University's Institute of Education, found that more than one-third of assisted-place holders went on to an élite university compared to less than one in 10 from state schools. The study concluded: "More of our assisted-places holders went to Oxbridge than their state-school counterparts. Although this is obviously a reflection of their higher average A-level points scores, it also reflects the different track records of private and state schools in securing Oxbridge entrance."

However, assisted-places holders were the most likely students to drop out of university with nearly one in 10 failing to complete their course. Those from working-class backgrounds were more likely to leave school at 16, to achieve lower than expected A-level results and to have problems fitting into their private school.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust which sponsored the research, called on the Government to reinstate a version of the assisted-places scheme, arguing that the problems could be overcome while retaining the benefits in order to give bright students from poor backgrounds the chance to attend private schools.

"As a former pupil of an independent school where all places were state funded, I know first hand the tremendous boost ... that attending a good independent school gave me and my friends.

"This research shows that there is a strong case for opening up top independent day schools to talented pupils from non-privileged backgrounds, so that they can benefit from the advantages a private education brings."

But Andrew Adonis, the Schools minister, insisted there would be no return of the assisted places scheme.

"We are investing to raise standards in state schools, [where] results are the best ever. We do not think it right for the Government to pay for parents to go private, but rather invest in improving state schools."