Call for state to pay for private school places

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CAMPAIGNERS are calling for the Government to pay for academically able pupils from all backgrounds to take up places across 100 top private schools as part of its plan to promote social mobility.

The Sutton Trust has published a 10 point mobility manifesto today aimed at closing the gap in results being achieved by children from poorer backgrounds and their peers.

The plan includes state funding to open up places to 100 leading independent schools “on the basis of ability rather than the ability to pay”.

The manifesto says that pupils who had gone through the assisted places scheme were continuing to reap the benefits.

The scheme, which was scrapped in 1997, helped pay for places at private schools for disadvantaged pupils. The Sutton Trust’s manifesto says that research had shown that virtually all students who had been on the programme “have gained promotion in well-paid professional and managerial occupations and 40 per cent were earning more than £90,000”. It calls for an open access scheme in which poor pupils get independent school places free of charge and middle earners pay reduced fees.

It says a scheme involving 100 schools and more than 60,000 pupils would cost the Government around £215m a year. The manifesto also calls for random allocations to be used to allow pupils from poorer backgrounds a better chance of getting into the best state schools. It also suggests the use of fair banding where schools admit a set number of pupils from different ability bands.

The charity says that nearly half of parents (47 per cent) would support making random allocation or ballots a part of school admissions rather than only prioritising how close parents live to a school, according to a new YouGov poll. The manifesto also calls for a significant increase in good quality apprenticeships for young people, ring-fenced funding to support the most able state school pupils and pupil premium cash incentives for schools to narrow the attainment gap between their richest and poorest students.

Dr Lee Elliot Major, Sutton Trust’s director of policy and development, said today: “Our 10 point manifesto gives political parties the ideas that will turn the rhetoric into radical change for the better. Fairer admissions and fairer access must be at the heart of any programme to improve social mobility. Our poll shows a public appetite for change in oversubscribed comprehensives and academies. We need changes too to ensure fair access to grammar schools, independent schools and elite universities.”

The manifesto on closing the attainment gap between pupils from deprived backgrounds and their peers follows Ofsted warning that too many young people are dropping out of sixth-form or college.

Government reforms to keep teenagers in education and training until the age of 18 are not having a strong impact, and high numbers of youngsters are “not well served” by their courses, according to the watchdog.

In a damning report into study programmes for 16 to 19-year-olds, inspectors said in many schools and colleges, students’ needs are not being met, that too much teaching of English and maths is not up to scratch and too few young people go on to an apprenticeship, employment or further learning, and careers advice is poor.