Letter: Blunkett can end schools apartheid

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Blunkett can end schools apartheid

Sir: I was glad to see from Donald Macintyre's interview with David Blunkett (21 May) that the Government is open to ideas on ways to open up private schools, beginning with the former direct-grant sector. Mr Blunkett is right to say that it cannot be done by the taxpayer footing the bill for people who might previously have paid for themselves. Hence the proposal in my book We Should Know Better that a version of the University maintenance grant system be applied to any private school volunteering to open its doors to all talents. Parents of pupils (like those of students) would pay on a sliding scale.

In higher education the aim was to widen access, and it worked. Our best schools, like our universities, should serve the whole nation, rather than reinforce the privilege of the well-born. While I support the abolition of the much-abused Assisted Places Scheme, in the absence of more radical measures abolition alone could simply entrench the apartheid of which Mr Blunkett speaks. My scheme would stand the APS on its head: entry to once exclusive schools would be by right, not grace-and-favour.

I welcome many of Mr Blunkett's pronouncements to date, for instance on teaching methods. Yet I fear that progress will be limited while Britain, alone in Europe, has not one but two educational cultures. Those who say that private schools are a distraction are merely avoiding the uncomfortable business of thinking. It is good to hear that Mr Blunkett is not among them.

GEORGE WALDEN

London W12

The writer was Conservative MP for Buckingham, 1983-97

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