T A L K B A C K

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The Independent Online
From D.A.G. Smith

Madam: Joan Clanchy's observations on the working of the assisted places scheme ("The price of independents", 9 March) are at least misleading because of their London bias and are, nationally, quite wrong.

The facts are against her. According to statistics gathered over recent years by both the Department for Education and MORI, roughly four in 10 pupils in the scheme are from working-class backgrounds (C2, D/E) and a further four from lower middle-class homes (C1). Four in 10 received entirely free places and the take up of places nationally is almost 100 per cent each year. There may be special circumstances in London, but nationally the scheme is hitting its targets.

Ms Clanchy perceives a social barrier between children from "less privileged backgrounds" and the values of independent day schools. Once again, that is her problem. It is not the case elsewhere. In West Yorkshire, for example, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh parents are major users of the scheme. They understand the values of independent day schools, the importance of education, ambition and hard work, and they share them and support them. Working-class Catholics in Liverpool feel exactly the same.

We know about the success of assisted place pupils. Ninety per cent go on to university. We know that the cost of an assisted place is of the same order as a place in a maintained school. We know that more than 70 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters approve of the scheme.

The assisted places scheme is working and the public knows it. It is a matter for regret that not all headteachers in independent schools share that confidence.

Yours faithfully,

D.A.G. SMITH

Chairman of the Assisted Places Committee, Independent Schools Joint Council,

Headmaster, Bradford Grammar School

Bradford

9 March Do you have views on education? Please send your letters to: The Education Editor, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL, and include a daytime telephone number. Fax 0171-293 2056.

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