Open access planned for private schools

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A plan to allow all children open access to many of Britain's top independent schools, regardless of their parents' financial backgrounds, has been unveiled by Sir Peter Lampl, the chairman of the Sutton Trust education charity.

Under the scheme, reported in The Independent, schools would operate an 'open access' policy in which all pupils would be selected on academic rather than economic merit. If the plan goes ahead, more than 30,000 bright pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds could take up places in leading independent schools.

Already, more than 80 private day schools have pledged their support for the scheme, which has been tried out at Belvedere girls' school in Liverpool. As a result, 30 per cent were offered free places and a further 40 per cent received some financial support.

Sir Peter said: "We got rid of academic selection in the 1970s and this has simply been replaced by social selection.

"Put simply it is very difficult for children from less privileged backgrounds to move up in society and it is more difficult than it used to be. Things have got worse."

The proposal would turn the schools into a mirror image of existing state grammar schools, offering places to the cleverest children based on academic merit, regardless of their background.

Sir Peter went on to say: "We are not proposing to extend or increase selection. Open access would simply democratise existing selection.

"Our independent schools are rated by the OECD as the best in the world. The converse is that there is no other country where the gap in performance between independent and state is as large as in this country."

Independent day school pupils are five times more likely to win an Oxbridge place and 22 times more likely to go to a top-ranked university than a state school pupil from a poor household.

Sir Peter is holding discussions with the three main political parties with a view to getting a commitment to include it in their 2015 election manifestos.

His plan would involve children undergoing tests for entrance into private schools. Those whose parents could afford full fees would pay, while others would have reduced fees. The poorest children would pay nothing.

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