Page last updated at 14:16 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Prescott 'school class warrior'

John Prescott
John Prescott says independent schools perpetuate privilege

John Prescott's criticism of private schools as bastions of privilege has been attacked as "hopelessly outdated" by the head of Rugby School.

The former deputy prime minister visited Rugby School as part of the BBC2 programme, Prescott: The Class System and Me.

Mr Prescott argues that independent schools provide an unfair advantage.

But Rugby head Patrick Derham says that Mr Prescott remains "trapped in an old class war".

Introducing his visit to Rugby, Mr Prescott said that independent schools were an integral part of "holding up the class system in Britain".

'Buying advantage'

Parents who send their children to independent schools are "buying the best for their kids - but the trouble is that the other 93% don't have that advantage", said the former Labour cabinet member.

He also criticised those people in public life who spoke in support of the state system but who chose private schools for their own children.

"You can't argue against privilege and then use the justification of your own children," he said.

However the head of Rugby rejected such an interpretation as out of date - arguing that the independent schools had scholarships which ensured a wider intake.

Mr Derham said that across the independent sector, a quarter of pupils were from below average income postcodes.

Attacking independent schools would do nothing for improving education standards, he said.

"The way to raise standards isn't to punish the successful," said Mr Derham.

He emphasised the offering of scholarships at schools such as his own, where fees are 26,000 per year. The aim at Rugby is to have 10% of pupils receiving support for the full fee.

This could be a "transformational" opportunity for pupils, he said.

He himself benefited from a scholarship to an independent school - and says that otherwise he would have left school at the age of 16.

But Mr Prescott, who spoke to children on scholarships at the school, said that there were always exceptions, but that did not disprove the bigger picture that the wealthy used independent schools to buy advantages for their children.

Mr Prescott, who also labelled the 11-plus system as a "kind of apartheid", concluded that "the answer has to be to improve state education".

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