Private schools should be open to all

Pupils would be selected on academic merit, rather than their parents' ability to pay.



Ask yourself this question: Is it right that only those who can afford to pay high fees can get their children into the country’s most academically exclusive and top performing private schools? If the answer is no – as mine would be, then you have to ask yourself another question: what are you going to do about it?

Decades ago, the answer would be simple in Labour circles. You would abolish the independent schools – thus giving an incentive to high earners to pay more taxes to go towards improving state schools. That, though, is not going to happen and we need to consider Sutton Trust education charity chairman Sir Peter Lampl’s plan for “open access” private schools against that background.

Sir Peter already has 80 independent schools – including Westminster and Manchester Grammar – pledging their support for his scheme, under which pupils would be selected for these already academically selective schools totally on academic merit rather than ability to pay.

Addressing the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference – the body which represents most of the country’s top public schools – in Belfast, he pointed out that his plan would not involve any increase in the amount of selection. The schools are already selective. All you would be doing is opening up those selective places to all comers.

As to the cost, he argues it would be cheaper to subsidise the places of the poorer pupils who get there on merit than it would be to pay for a state education for the school’s entire intake. To allow 30,000 pupils access under this scheme, he said, would cost £180 million – not easy to find in these times of austerity but a relative drop in the ocean compared with an overall education budget running into billions of pounds.

The obvious drawback to the plan is that it would take bright pupils away from state schools – thus making it more difficult for them to attain high standards of performance. It will, but will the number of pupils they will be giving up be enough to make that much of a difference to a school’s ability to succeed?

Some of those 80 schools who have signed up to support Sir Peter’s “open access” are pessimistic as to whether it will ever see the light of day. They think it will flounder on the selection issue. Both of our two main political parties are a bit ambivalent on that issue already. The Conservatives, who face pressure from their grass roots to increase selection, are happy to stick with the status quo of 164 remaining state grammar schools but no more. Labour, who face the opposite pressures, are in the same boat.

While we are caught in this no man’s land, does it not make sense to give Sir Peter’s proposal serious consideration rather than just carry on whingeing about the iniquity of the situation?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home