Letter: The state should learn a lesson from private schooling

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Sir: Your education correspondent (analysis, 9 May) highlights the major problem facing the nation's education services. The two major political parties still resolutely refuse to face the fact that our schools need far, far more money, and parents are going to have to provide it. Recent education reforms have encouraged parental involvement and given governors new responsibility. These are meaningless if a degree of real financial autonomy is denied them. The model for these reforms was perhaps the practice in independent schools.

The parallel breaks down because governors there are in full control of their budgets, both income and expenditure, and parents agree to pay for the service they expect to receive. By comparison, state school governors are seriously handicapped and parents understandably resentful whenever asked to pay for what they have been led to believe was a "free" service.

Your correspondent reveals that Britain spends a lower percentage of national income on education than other European nations. Does this statistic take into account the enormous sum parents voluntarily pay for private education in this country? A Labour administration's avowed intent to end the Assisted Places Scheme, and the Charity Commission's ruling over the tax relief status of educational trusts together have grave economic implications, however. Have the politicians seriously considered the cost impact of a substantial volume of children - perhaps many tens of thousands - being suddenly transferred into the state system?

Contrary to a popular misconception, private schools, saving the country the cost of educating over half a million children, have contributed enormously to the wealth and benefit of the nation. Every threat to their survival will prove very costly. Perhaps it might actually be cheaper to encourage, support and, as in many countries, positively subsidise them.

Paddy Heazell

Snape, Suffolk