Public schools to help state pupils

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England's most famous public schools could offer lessons, including preparation for Oxbridge entrance exams, to pupils at comprehensives, under a government initiative to be unveiled this week.

The plan, to be announced by Stephen Byers, school standards minister, is designed to usher in a new era of "partnership" between the state and independent sectors.

Mr Byers will announce a new committee of state and independent school representatives to be chaired by Chris Parker, head of Nottingham High School for Boys, which will report to ministers by Christmas. It will audit links between state and private schools and consider how they can be increased. Collaboration includes sharing playing-fields, music facilities, Saturday morning schools for state pupils and summer schools. The committee will examine which of these could be copied elsewhere.

The move comes as Charity Commissioners examine the accounts of 3,000 bodies, including independent schools, to see that they qualify for charitable status. Schools' charitable deeds usually stipulate that they set aside 5 per cent for bursaries.

Although Labour is no longer threatening to remove the considerable tax advantages of charitable status, a government source said private schools might see partnership as "an opportunity to express their charitable status". No agreement has been reached on who will bear the costs of partnerships. Ministers believe some additional teaching or facilities could be provided at "marginal cost" to public schools.

But independent school heads have made it clear that parents already paying twice for education through taxes and fees cannot be expected to pay more to enable state-school children to receive the benefits of independent schools for nothing.

Mr Byers, who will address the Girls Schools Association, will praise schools such as King Edward in Birmingham and Dulwich College, which host literacy summer schools. He is eager to promote the "family schools" approach where public schools offer classes in minority subjects such as Russian or Latin to state pupils in their region.

Ideas for ways in which the division between independent and state schools could be bridged have already been put to Mr Byers by Martin Stephen, head of Manchester Grammar School. These include offering tuition in independent schools to state-school sixth-formers who want to do minority subjects and educating state-school candidates for Oxbridge in independent schools. Preparation for interviews is regarded as one area where the public schools have a particular expertise.

Dr Stephen already has the promise of funding from an educational charity for the latter scheme. Two Oxford colleges and two in Cambridge are considering whether to support it.