Top school in pounds 10m bid to provide free access

Independent education: Academic flagship launches new-style assisted- places scheme but warns of stricter means test for applicants
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The Independent Online
ONE OF Britain's most famous independent schools is to offer free or subsidised places to all poor pupils who qualify for entry but only after it has checked the size of their parents' houses and incomes.

Dr Martin Stephen, head of Manchester Grammar School, said that a pounds 10m appeal launched today would create a new type of "free access" independent school and enable it to offer the same number of assisted places as the government scheme abolished last year.

But he promised that the means test for his school's scheme would be strict to avoid the "misuse" of funds which had occurred under the government scheme which paid out a total of pounds 140m to around 10,000 pupils each year.

He said: "The means test for the old scheme had two weaknesses. It didn't measure the capital value of claimants' houses so that technically you could be living in a pounds 1m house on a very low income. And in the case of single or divorced people it didn't allow for the existence of a partner. We are going to check people's council tax band and the income of the household. We don't think old Mancunians are going to give money if they think it will be misused."

He believed only a small number of people had misused assisted places, mainly in London and the South-east. Rules for the old scheme were laid down by the Government but policed by schools.

The Prince of Wales has agreed to act as patron for the appeal for the school (fees, pounds 4,500 a year) whose old boys include cricketer Mike Atherton, writer Alan Garner, actor Robert Powell and financier Howard Davies. A total of pounds 3m has already been raised to ensure that the 40 free or subsidised places will be available for the 210 boys who enter the school this September. At present, 400 boys throughout the school receive full or near full-fees support.

Dr Stephen said: "This is an unashamed attempt to refound one of our oldest schools which was founded in 1515 to provide free education for local people."

His school which caters for 1,400 boys who must pass an entrance test was top in last year's GCSE league tables and 58 of its sixth-formers have been offered places at Oxford or Cambridge this year.

Almost all independent schools with assisted places are fund-raising to replace them, but most are expected to do so on a more modest scale. The Girls' Public Day School Trust is trying to raise pounds 70m for its 25 schools.

Each school will decide how to administer funds and how checks should be made on applicants.

nTHE HOPES of an 11-year-old boy being allowed to continue his education at a private boarding school under the assisted places scheme hung in the balance yesterday.

A High Court judge heard that the Department for Education and Employment is now considering "fresh material" supporting the case of Alastair Sanderson, who is in danger of losing his place at the King's School in Ely, Cambridgeshire, following the rundown of the scheme. Alastair's mother,Yvonne Sanderson, 39, had her application for leave to apply for judicial review adjourned after Philip Engelman, appearing for the family, announced that David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, was "redetermining" the case.

OLD BOYS made good

Mike Atherton

Former England cricket captain. England under-19 captain, at 16. Now back in the runs for England.

Ben Kingsley

Oscar-winning actor whose stage career began as member of school

dramatic society

Martin Sixsmith

Former BBC Moscow correspondent - studied Russian at school. Harriet Harman's spokesman.

Howard Davies

Former Bank of England deputy governor and CBI director-general. Head of Financial Services Authority.