Two-thirds of voters are against private education, poll reveals

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The Independent Online

Only 29 per cent of people believe parents should have the right to send their children to fee-paying schools, according to a new YouGov poll given to The Independent on the eve of the Labour Party conference debate on education. And even among Conservative voters, just 51 per cent of those polled were in favour of private education.

The aversion to privilege in education contrasted strongly with attitudes to private health care, with 69 per cent saying it was possible to have a society in which all patients had the right to both high-quality NHS care and to pay for private health care.

Fifty-three per cent felt independent schools should be stripped of their charitable status, and 49 per cent agreed that VAT should be added to school fees, with the extra revenue used to help schools in disadvantaged communities.

A majority of voters in each of the three major political parties thought the standard of their local state schools was very good or fairly good. When asked about state education nationally, however, only 47 per cent thought it was good.

Tom Hampson, editorial director of the Fabian Society, which commissioned the poll, said it showed "a real antipathy to the free ride private schools have been getting and some disquiet about parents who buy their children a better chance in life".

"Throughout the history of the British education system, social inequality has not only been taken for granted, it has actually been structured into the school system," he added.

The poll comes at a time of growing controversy for the private education sector. Last week the financial experts, mtmconsulting, said years of above-inflation fee rises meant independent schools would suffer a fall in pupil numbers for the first time in a decade. And the education charity, the Sutton Trust, revealed that private schools managed to get their pupils into top universities such as Oxford and Cambridge with lower A-level qualifications than state school pupils who had been rejected.

The Government has already introduced new legislation forcing private schools to prove they provide a public good to qualify for charitable status, as judged by the Charity Commission. Lord Adonis, the Schools minister, wants to persuade private schools to enter the state system under the academies programme. He has been invited next week to address the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents 250 major independent schools.

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