Letter: Who benefits from the assisted places scheme?

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is a particular feature of follow-up studies that they take some years to do. David Woodhead, national director of the Independent Schools Service, takes me (and Professor Peter Saunders of Sussex University) to task (Another View, 21 December) because the research on the effects of private and state schools began with a sample who were born 40 years ago - but the findings that showed little difference in adult outcome were this year's.

My concern about the pounds 105m spent on Assisted Places was based on independent research, not, as he says, "assertions". I refer to the dedicated study published in 1989, The State and Private Education: an Evaluation of the assisted places scheme by Tony Edwards, John Fitz and Geoff Whitty (Falmer Press). It states clearly that fewer than 10 per cent of the selected children had fathers who were manual workers, compared with 50 per cent in service-class occupations such as teaching, and that although children from single-parent families made up the largest category, other disadvantaged groups, notably the unemployed, and black and Asian families, had poor representation. They also found that two-thirds of those taking up places for the first time at 16 were already fee-paying pupils in the same school.

Of course, there is always the possibility that things have changed beyond recognition in the past few years, though that remains to be seen. But, most importantly, we do not know how those Assisted Places pupils would have fared had they not gone to private schools, but to good comprehensives instead. After all, they were chosen because they were extremely bright, well motivated and from supportive families. At best, the assisted places scheme remains unproven; at worst, it is a misdirection of educational funds.

Yours faithfully,

Joan Freeman

London, W1

21 December