A new announcement from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) has discussed plans for private schools throughout England to cover the costs associated with admitting 10,000 children from low-income backgrounds, so long as the Government provides them with the £5,550 per student that is allocated for each child by the state system. Doing so would allow these children to attend private schooling for free.
The proposal, which the ISC said will use various assessment criteria, including testing academic abilities, was created in response to the Government’s continuing education consultation.
In the beginning, the initiative is expected to cost £50 million in taxpayer subsidy. That number would increase to £250 million per year after five years. The total number of placements it would create is said to be equivalent to building 10 new state secondary schools, writes Laura Hughes for The Telegraph.
Fees associated with attending such schools across England average out to £13,000 per year, although that number can rise as high as £18,000 in and around London.
There are currently 1,200 ISC primary and secondary schools, which say that currently, 40,000 means-tested bursaries are awarded worth £350 million per year. However, only 5,500 of those offer full coverage of school fees.
The idea is similar to an assisted places scheme implemented in 1980 by Margaret Thatcher. Put to an end by Tony Blair in 1997, the plan had offered to pay for private school placements for low-income students whose families could not afford to send them to such schools otherwise, reports Richard Adams for The Guardian.
Patrick Derham, Headmaster of Westminster school in London, called the new plan being promoted by the ISC one offering “real social mobility.”
“This scheme, like so many in our schools, is not about choosing the brightest pupils but about providing genuine transformational opportunities for those who need them most,” Derham said. “We all want all young people to flourish and to be authors of their own life stories.”
However, outgoing Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw believes the proposal will not do enough:
“I think they can do better than that and if I was government I would be asking them to do more as a quid pro quo for their tax privileges,” he said.
Meanwhile, new research published by the Sutton Trust found children from white working-class backgrounds were not as likely to win places in grammar schools as their more wealthy peers, suggesting that these children are not being helped by the current grammar school system. In addition, black children were found to also be less likely to gain a spot in grammar schools.
At the same time, private schools are currently facing the loss of their charitable status, which can save up to £150 million each year for these schools. Theresa May recently stated that independent schools in the country are “divorced from normal life,” arguing that more needs to be done by these establishments to help children from low-income backgrounds. She added that if this does not happen, schools could lose their status as charities.
May was accused last September of “waging war” on such schools after she unveiled a number of new policy measures that came with punishments for those who did not comply.
For her first major policy announcement as Prime Minister, May stated that only those private schools that either set up or sponsored Government-run sister schools would be allowed to keep their charitable status. She went on to say that smaller private schools would be required to send their teachers to state schools for lessons, or else begin to accept a pre-set number of low-income students who would otherwise be unable to afford to attend such a school.
The new proposal would also require independent schools to work together to co-sponsor state-funded schools that would be located in one or more of the six educational “cold spots” that have been identified throughout the country by the Department for Education.
A DfE spokesperson said: “We welcome contributions to the consultation and will respond in due course.”