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Private schools take fewer state pupils

FIRST SIGNS that fee-paying schools are becoming more socially exclusive since the abolition of the assisted places scheme emerged yesterday. The scheme, which helped to meet the cost of fees for bright children from poor families, was scrapped by the Government last year.

Figures show that the number of recruits from state primary schools into private secondaries fell. Independent schools warned before the election that they feared they would become less socially mixed if the scheme disappeared.

David Woodhead, director of the Independent Schools Information Service, which published the figures, said: "In 1997-98, recruits from maintained schools made up 34.1 per cent of all new entrants; this year that proportion has fallen to 31.3 per cent. Over time, this may well result in an unwelcome change in the overall social and economic background of all pupils in those schools." The scheme is being phased out and schools say the effect of its abolition will not be known for several years.

Overall, Mr Woodhead said the survey showed that schools had proved resilient to the loss of assisted places. Commentators had predicted that some weaker independent schools were so reliant on assisted places that they might close. An analysis of schools with assisted places disclosed that, although they had lost 7,787 assisted pupils, the total number of new pupils fell by only 3,611. Schools are trying to make up for the loss of assisted places by improving their own bursary schemes. The proportion of pupils receiving help from their own schools is up by 7.5 per cent and now stands at a record 20 per cent of the total.

About 7.1 per cent of pupils are educated in independent schools. Total numbers rose for the fourth year, up by 0.7 per cent. The biggest increase was among the under-fives where numbers rose by 5.2 per cent. Numbers in secondary schools fell slightly. Heads suggested that the decline in the number of sixth-formers might be due to the introduction of university tuition fees.