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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 00:01 GMT
Private sector 'barrier to equality'
Ripon Grammar School
Grammar schools are accused of failing the poor
The independent school sector has been accused of being a barrier to the achievement of equality of education.

Professor Harry Brighouse, of the University of London's Institute of Education, says the government must tackle a "deep unfairness" which means the education of the least advantaged was worse than that of the more privileged.

If some people have less opportunity than others simply because their parents are poorer or less attentive, or because their schooling is less good, this is a deep unfairness

Professor Brighouse
In his report - published by the Labour-affiliated think-tank, the Fabian Society, he suggests it is unjust that some children should have better chances through education, simply because their parents can afford it.

He acknowledges that to abolish the sector would be "politically unfeasible".

Moreover, the introduction into British law this year of the European Convention on Human Rights would almost certainly make abolition illegal, he says.

But Professor Brighouse proposes five major reforms:

  • The prohibition of selection on the basis of ability by private schools to enshrine equality of opportunity in UK education policy and make the parents' right to choose a school for their child more meaningful

  • Conditional charitable status for private schools, reserved only for those contributing to a legitimate public purpose

  • A ten-year timetable to achieve equivalence between the sectors in both teacher-pupil ratios and per-pupil spending

  • A five-year target for elite universities to have 70% of their undergraduate intake from state schools

  • Partnership schemes linking inner-city state schools with private schools to share facilities.

    Professor Brighouse said: "We should encourage the private schools to forgo the purpose of creating an exclusive class of rulers, for an opportunity to contribute to the overall social goal of equal opportunity."

    But the Labour party appeared reluctant to back the professor's call to abolish selection by ability.

    Government sources said: "We haven't got any plans to change our policies on this."

    Focus on disadvantaged

    Professor Brighouse argues the less academically talented are as important as the more academically talented, which justifies society putting more resources into their education than that of the more talented.

    Studying at university is a key way of improving a person's economic status and should be available to more children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

    State school pupils are losing out, he claims, because relatively able and well-behaved children from educated homes were using the independent sector.

    Attack on New Labour

    The growth of the private sector should be a "deep embarrassment to a government committed to equal opportunity", Professor Brighouse said.

    "And Labour's silence about private schooling is new. Hostility to the private sector is almost as old as the Labour Party itself."

    Professor Brighouse's report documents Labour's 1983 manifesto, which said the sector was "a major obstacle to a free and fair education system able to serve the whole community".

    The 1997 manifesto though was silent about private schools, except for pledging to abolish the assisted places scheme.

    Better results

    In his report, Professor Brighouse highlights the fact that the private sector now accounts for 6.5% of all school-age children, up from 5.5% in the mid 1970s.

    And this was in spite of the decline in boarding schools, he said.

    Referring to statistics from the Independent Schools Information Service (Isis), he reflected how fees have been rising.

    Average day fees were up 6.6% in 2000 to nearly 6,000 per annum, following a 5.7% increase in 1999.

    Private schools can boast success, with Isis estimating that 36% of their schools' A-level entries achieved grade A this year (up from 34.8% in 1999).

    This compares to the national improvement of just 0.3% (up to 17.8%), Professor Brighouse said.

    At GCSE, 51.2% of all private school entries were A or A*, up from 50.3% in 1999: the national improvement was just 0.6%t (up to 15.8%).

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    Selective schools top tables
    17 Oct 00 | Education
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    Blunkett predicts demise of grammars
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