Education Letters: Calling public schools elitist is just a lazy stereotype

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Parents of more than half a million children who attend ISC schools will be dismayed by the prejudice and stereotype displayed by the cartoon, which set the tone of the comment piece it accompanied ("Private schools must change – or we all suffer", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 25 September). Independent Schools Council schools are big and small; rich and poor; selective and non-selective.

The common feature they share is a commitment to the highest quality of education that focuses on the needs of individual pupils. The cost of providing that education is recouped from parents who have made the conscious choice to forego a state school place they have already paid for, saving the Exchequer more than £2bn each year. IPSOS Mori research commissioned by the ISC shows that the most common reasons for parents making that choice are "better standards" and "better discipline". Far from "entrenching advantage" or "selecting socially", schools are acutely aware of their ability to be engines for social mobility.

ISC schools already provide bursaries to a quarter of their pupils, totalling more than £350m in 2008. Most schools are also engaged in the community through social work, shared facilities, collaboration or partnership.

And ISC has no need to "reach for lawyers" in engaging with the Charity Commission, when the Charity Law Association itself castigates the Commission for producing guidance that does not accurately reflect the law.

Matthew Burgess, Deputy Chief Executive, Independent Schools Council, London WC2

What we need is specialist preparation for graduates

Auriol Stevens calls for public schools to "think imaginatively about how to renew their charitable purpose" now that the Charities Act 2006 means that the provision of education is no longer, of itself, a charitable activity. One imaginative thing they might consider is to stop competing with the state secondary education sector and move into post-compulsory education.

With nearly 50 per cent of the population now getting an undergraduate degree it is a masters or doctorate qualification that is becoming the entrance ticket to a professional career. The traditional three-year honours degree is often a poor preparation for graduate study. Much better would be a more general undergraduate degree of the kind provided by an American college but which is not currently available in a British university [though the Scots come close with their four-year degrees]. If some of the public schools were to take on this role and become the equivalents in the UK of institutions such as Amherst, Williams or Swarthmore in the USA our research universities would then have the kind of well prepared graduate students that they will need for their graduate schools to remain internationally competitive.

Sir John Ashworth, Director, London School of Economics 1990-96

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