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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 13:58 GMT
Means-tested fees idea for state schools
school computer room
There are big differences in the money schools get
Better-off parents should pay for their children's state education as a way of bringing secondary schools up to the resource levels of the independent sector, it has been suggested.

The government would be pushing at an open door

Headmaster Anthony Seldon
That resources goal was set out by the prime minister, Tony Blair, who told a teachers' union he wanted "a state education system that is as good in its facilities and investment as the independent sector".

It was estimated that this would cost about 2,000 per pupil per year extra.

A paper from the Social Market Foundation think tank argues that the way to do this is to have means-tested fees for state schools.

Its author is Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Brighton College boarding school, which charges up to 11,700 a year.

Taxes not enough

"The success of independent schools shows that money matters," he says.

"Money buys good teachers and workable teacher:pupil ratios. It buys computers, books and other equipment.

"It provides civilised and exciting spaces for learning in and out of doors."

Taxation alone would not bridge the gulf between the sectors. Labour's planned spending increases would not even scratch the surface.

"I argue that there is a ready and available way to address the problem of funding, and one which would have a positive effect on improving education.

"All those parents who can afford to pay should also pay a part of their children's education".

Already happens

This would not go down well electorally, Mr Seldon concedes.

But he says some parents already pay a premium in house prices of up to 40,000 to be near to good schools, and contribute directly to buy textbooks and equipment, and even to help pay wages.

"Parents of state school children are willing and eager, when they can afford to do so, to pay more. The government would be pushing at an open door."

Paying would also give parents a greater sense of involvement with the school.

And he says there is no moral reason why they should not contribute - not least because it is wrong that parents who currently pay independent school fees also pay through their taxes for the children of other middle class parents to be educated at state schools.

Weighted towards deprived schools

"The injustice is at its most immoral and vulgar when middle class parents move their homes into the catchment areas of grammar schools or popular comprehensives, thereby denying places to needy children from less advantaged homes," he says.

His proposal is that means-testing would start with secondary schooling, and later move to primaries.

As a rough guide he suggests contributions should start when the household incomce exceeds 25,000 a year, with those on more than 60,000 paying full fees.

The money raised by means-testing would be used to bring expenditure on state school children to the level of independent school children over 10 years.

The extra money would be spread throughout the system, so the most deprived schools got more.

Parents would also pay more to send their children to the more popular schools - so deprived schools would get more funding but cost less to attend.

See also:

10 Apr 01 | Education
Funds not charity say teachers
07 Mar 01 | Budget 2001
1bn extra for schools
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