Top Tories 'do not want poor pupils to access private schools'

Millionaire philanthropist's radical plan would subsidise the brightest children

A radical plan to help poor pupils attend some of Britain's best independent schools is stalling because of resistance from senior Conservatives within the Cabinet, the founder of the Sutton Trust educational charity claims today.

Millionaire philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl said he has had "good conversations" with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg since he announced that 80 private schools, including Westminster, Manchester Grammar School and King Edward's School, Birmingham, had signed up to his scheme to make entrance exams open to all. Under his proposal, the Government would pay the fees of pupils bright enough to pass the tests who could not otherwise afford to attend.

In his presentation last month to the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents 250 of the country's top independent school, Sir Peter argued that it would cost less to subsidise the places of hard-up pupils under his "open access" proposal than it would to provide them all with a state education.

Yet, he said, the Conservatives "blow hot and cold" on the scheme, suggesting that very senior members of the Cabinet are less than enthusiastic. Asked if he had Education Secretary Michael Gove's support, Sir Peter said: "I think it is difficult in the Conservative party right now. I think there is a problem above Michael Gove's level. The Cabinet is very blue chip."

Sir Peter's comments came as he prepares to put his ideas into practice at a second, as yet unnamed, private school, 10 years after his first experiment at Liverpool's Belvedere School. Open-access entrance exams at Belvedere led to 30 per cent of places going to girls from poorer homes on full scholarships, funded by the Sutton Trust – until the school decided to join the state sector as an academy.

Sir Peter is in discussions with another school about repeating the exercise on a small scale, while he said that the number of schools signed up in support of a broader, Government-backed open-access initiative was approaching 90. But politicians from both the Conservative and Labour parties, he said, have "flip-flopped".

"I suppose what we're doing is working on including commitments to it in 2015 election manifestos," he said.

"The Conservatives blow hot and cold about it... they're worried it will link them with privilege and selection," he said. "Labour is hung up on selection, and these schools are selective. The trouble is the selection is not open to 93 per cent of the country at the moment because of the ability to pay." Sir Peter is convinced that his plan represents good value for the taxpayer, as well as a great educational opportunity for at least some pupils from poorer homes. For £180m, about 30,000 extra pupils could be given access to private schools, he said.

The Department for Education said: "Our priority is to transform the state education system so that all children are able to access a good quality education, regardless of their background. Through the expansion of the academies programme and the introduction of free schools, we are increasing the number of good school places – many of them in disadvantaged areas."

Open season: Scholarship success stories

‘Kids of my background aspire to great things’

It was one of Sarah Doyle's primary school teachers who spotted an advert for the new "open access" arrangements at Belvedere High School for Girls and encouraged her parents to let their daughter, one of the brightest pupils in the class, sit the exam. Sarah did just that and, after attending the school with the help of a Sutton Trust bursary, became the first person in her immediate family to go to university.

She remembers the early days at Belvedere when "open access" pupils were scarce: "I think they [the prep school girls] thought we were going to be louder than they were," she said. But gradually, the distinction between the two faded. "I've got friends amongst the former prep schools girls and those on the open access scheme."

After a BA in education from Liverpool John Moores University, she is now a teacher and head of PE. "I think children from my background really aspire to great things and we had teachers who really worked hard for us," she said.

‘I wouldn’t have got to uni without this opportunity’

Nneka Cummins never dreamt she could get into Belvedere, even though it was just down the street from where she lived.

"My mum came upon the open access scheme just by chance," she said. "It was on the BBC news one morning.

She joined the school in its third year of the new "open access" scheme and was entitled to full scholarship support because of her parents' income. Now 19, she is in the first year of studying for a law degree at Durham University.

"I don't think I'd have ended up where I am today if it hadn't been for the opportunity," she said.

"What the teachers gave us was above and beyond the call of duty. As someone who couldn't have paid for extra private tuition if I'd needed it, I got the extra teaching I needed."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

WORLDbytes: Two-Day Intensive Camera training and Shoot: Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th March

expenses on shoots: WORLDbytes: Volunteering with a media based charity,for a ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 4 Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A school in Tameside is currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are currently looking for ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

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

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003