The headmaster of a leading public school who proposed making wealthy parents pay to send their children to top state schools defended his idea, saying it would increase social mobility.
Anthony Seldon, the head teacher at the £33,000-a-year Wellington College, said his blueprint to make parents earning more than £80,000 a year pay a fee for their children to attend leading state schools would break “the middle class stranglehold” on such establishments.
The proposal, laid out in a report for the cross-party think tank the Social Market Foundation and presented to the major political parties, received an icy response from ministers. A spokesman for the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, said: “This will not be Conservative Party policy.”
But Dr Seldon, a biographer of the former prime minister Tony Blair and an outspoken commentator on education policy, said his proposals were primarily designed to ensure that the least well-off had better access to the highest-quality education by introducing means testing at state schools.
He said his reforms, which would also require private schools to set aside a quarter of places for low-income pupils, were designed to reduce the domination of places at leading state schools by parents who could afford to move into prohibitively expensive catchment areas and pay for extra tuition.
Dr Seldon told The Independent: “The problem with social mobility is now so chronic that we have to do something more radical. What these proposals do is get the bottom 25 per cent of society into top state schools and into independent schools.
“It is designed to address problems that no government, whether of the right or left, has had the guts to tackle. There is incredible differentiation and isolation within the state sector. These are proposals to which people have to listen.”
A family with an income of more than £200,000 would be expected to pay about £6,000 to fund their children’s education at a popular state school, rising to the same level as the private sector for the most highly-rated establishments – about £15,000 a year for a primary and £20,000 for a secondary place. The charges would apply on a sliding scale, starting at about £100 per term for parents with a combined income of £80,000.
Dr Seldon said the move would help narrow the “unfair” gap between the academic results and career prospects of the richest and poorest children by using the money raised to fund more teachers and smaller classes. A quarter of the money raised would be retained by the school and the remainder distributed among other state schools.
He denied that the effect of the policy would be a boon for private schools such as his own by persuading wealthy parents to switch their offspring to independent education.
The report claimed that private schools offered the best model of education and that the state sector should seek to emulate features such as house systems, boarding, longer school days and strict enforcement of uniform codes.
Dr Seldon said the introduction of fees would be coupled with a requirement for the best-performing schools to reserve a quarter of places for pupils from low-income brackets.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of the education watchdog Ofsted, warned last month that the widening gap in pupil attainment meant education was becoming “two nations”. He has previously warned that grammar schools are “stuffed full” of middle-class pupils and make no contribution to social mobility.