Peter Lampl: The great lie of private schools

From a speech by the chairman of the Sutton Trust to the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference in Dublin
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The Independent Online

I would like to dispel a myth in which the chattering classes firmly believe: that there are vast numbers of children from poor neighbourhoods already going to independent schools.

Each year, the independent schools' census shows that a growing number of children are being helped with fees - over 30 per cent in the latest census. Statistics from the Independent Schools' Council show that more than 6 per cent of fee income is spent on funding students - half of it on scholarships.

The scholarships are not means tested, and go largely to parents who can afford fees and some, of course, to parents of bright children who might be tempted to go to competitive schools. Then there is the 3 per cent spent on bursaries. But where does this mainly go? Quite rightly, to students already at your schools whose parents fall on hard times.

Then your schools attract good teachers by offering to pay at least half the fees of their children. That leaves very little to fund students who genuinely need a majority of their fees paid. I am sure you do your best, but the idea that nearly one third of your pupils come from the deserving poor is, I'm sure, not one you would wish to put out.

Legally, it looks as if the right of your schools to charitable status is secure. And no government, least of all this one, is really looking to end this. But morally, it is a different matter. I think it is becoming increasingly evident that every year your schools - and you as heads of them - have to justify your moral right to charitable status.