Vouchers 'would improve access' to the best schools

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Education vouchers would give children from disadvantaged backgrounds access to the best schools and stop middle-class families deserting the state sector, a left-wing academic suggests.

Professor Harry Brighouse of London University's Institute of Education argues that schools should pick their pupils by lottery to achieve a better balance of ability and social class, and encourage middle- class parents to keep their children in the state system.

In a pamphlet for the Social Market Foundation think-tank, he states that middle class parents are turning to fee-paying schools rather than risk being forced to send their child to a failing state school.

The professor insists the voucher must reflect the cost of educating each child, so a child from a deprived background or with low test scores would be worth more to a school than a middle-class student or one with a good academic record.

Professor Brighouse says plans to increase the number of specialist and faith schools will make matters worse because these schools are allowed to either select on aptitude or interview families. "I'm confident a genuinely egalitarian choice scheme would preserve middle- class participation better than selection," he says.

Education vouchers are normally associated with the political right - the Conservatives introduced vouchers for nursery education. Parents could put them towards the cost of a fee-paying nursery place.