Independent school heads accuse Labour

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The Independent Online
Independent schools yesterday accused the Labour party of misleading them throughout a year of negotiations over a replacement for the Assisted Places Scheme.

Public school heads said at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference in Glasgow that they were stepping up their campaign against Labour plans to abolish the scheme after talks with Labour politicians stalled.

A year ago heads hoped Labour might be persuaded to put pressure on local authorities to buy places in independent schools for children with special aptitudes if Assisted Places were abolished under a Labour government.Vivian Anthony, the Conference Secretary, said: "We would have liked there to be some co-operation. All we have got is very nice smiles and everyone trying to be friendly and nothing that is real."

The heads have been trying to negotiate a deal under which independent schools would open their facilities more frequently to state school people in return for places bought by local authorities. Authorities already have the power to buy places under the Martin Rule but few do so. During the year, Labour has said that it will continue to buy places in music and ballet schools and floated the idea that local authority funds might be used to buy places in maths and science at independent schools.

Hugh Wright, head of King Edward's School in Birmingham said it was unrealistic to suppose that Labour local authorities were going to buy places for talented children in independent schools under the present system: "They are trying to soften the blow of the abolition of the scheme, which is obviously unpopular in some quarters, by putting up somewhat bogus alternatives."

Labour has said it will scrap the scheme which offers 34,000 places for pupils from poor homes in private schools and use the money to reduce infant class sizes. The heads said the redistribution of the 120 million Assisted Places money would achieve a reduction in each primary class size of only 1/16th. In the first year only pounds 15 million would be saved because Labour has said it will not remove existing Assisted Places.

Labour's calculations took no account of the amount of money it would cost to educate Assisted Places children in the state sector. Later Tony Evans,the Conference chairman and head of Portsmouth Grammar School told members that universities had expanded too rapidly. .He suggested that the development of mass higher education could have endangered the quality of demanding courses such as Law and Medicine because the number of new degrees had increased so quickly without adequate funding