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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
Private schools told to back academies
Pupils in classroom
The minister backed partnership between sectors
Leading independent schools should become sponsors of city academies, says the school standards minister.

"The Eton Academy, the Winchester Academy - it does have a certain ring to it," said David Miliband.

City academies are the government's latest attempt to revitalise inner-city education, set up with the support of businesses, religious and community groups.

David Miliband
David Miliband says it will not be easy to overcome "rivalry, resentment and suspicion" between sectors

Mr Miliband suggested that independent schools could also set up academies, which are run with state funds, but which have greater autonomy than mainstream comprehensives.

Applying their expertise to the state sector could bring benefits to private schools, said the minister.

"It's a challenge and these schools are about challenge. And they might learn something."

The minister's speech encouraged more co-operation between the state and private education sectors - arguing that improving standards was an area of mutual concern and mutual benefit.

"I don't pretend it is easy to overcome a history of rivalry, resentment and suspicion. In England the divisions between public and private sectors are deeper than elsewhere."

'Direct grant'

His speech also expressed regret for the scrapping of "direct grant" schools by an earlier Labour administration in the 1970s.

Mr Miliband was speaking to a one-day conference in Brighton organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

The think-tank had published a pamphlet on Tuesday calling for private schools to be required to work with their state counterparts.

And unless private schools joined such partnerships they should lose their charitable status, said pamphlet authors, Antony Edkins, head of Falmer High School in Brighton, and Anthony Seldon, head of Brighton College.

The threat to charitable status was not supported by Mr Miliband.

Under-funded

Partnerships between sectors are supported by the government, but the pamphlet's authors complain that since 1997, spending on them - about 4m - has been less than the budget of a large comprehensive school.

They say partnerships will become more widespread only if that funding is increased "dramatically" - but also if there is an element of coercion on the independent schools.

In their pamphlet, Partnership not Paternalism, they say no other developed country has such a gulf between two systems of education.

"The divide is deeply damaging in a variety of ways, social, pastoral and academic" - perpetuating the British class system.

"Poor children generally receive an inferior education while the better-off, whose parents can afford independent school fees, receive a privileged education.

"It is the children who are most in need of the kind of privileged education enjoyed currently by the few who are least likely to receive it."

They conclude:

  • every private school should appoint a partnership co-ordinator
  • inspectors should treat partnership as a mandatory activity
  • all new teachers should have to spend their first three years in state schools

They admit that the benefits would be largely one-sided, but say that partnership activities expose independent school pupils to children from a far wider social and cultural range.

But they say abolishing private schools is a non-starter, so partnership is the only way forward.

Opportunistic

There are suspicions on both sides - and one fear is that letting state school teachers see "how the other half lives" might simply disillusion them further, or prompt them to apply for jobs in the private sector.

They say some independent school heads have had complaints from parents who object to money being spent on state school pupils "with no immediate benefit to their own children".

And they reveal that some independent schools have sought funding for partnerships as a way of getting into primary schools to recruit, perhaps through academic "master classes" or sports tournaments.

"Most of such projects were weeded out, and funding rejected," they say.

Sustainability

The heads advocate threatening to remove the charitable status of independent schools which do not get involved in partnerships.

They say Labour might find it "politically too awkward to put the squeeze on" in this way - but argue that such obstacles can be overcome.

They say "forced marriages" exist throughout the education system, and are sustainable as long as the financial incentives and support are forthcoming.

"There is no alternative to partnership unless we are to see an increasingly polarised country continue to be underpinned by our increasingly polarised education system."

See also:

10 Sep 02 | Education
21 Nov 01 | Education
19 Mar 01 | Education
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