BRAD HIRONS: Who benefits from private schools’ plan?

Brad Hirons has strong feelings about education
Brad Hirons has strong feelings about education

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IT’S THAT time of year when private schools turn up at the government’s door like an ex-partner asking to be taken back one more time.

Their promise of 10,000 free school places to low-income families, just so long as the government stumps up the first £5,500, comes as the government looks at whether private schools should continue to be granted charitable status.

But it’s happened before.

From 1980 until 1997 the government paid for about 5,000 children a year to attend private schools.

Labour scrapped this to reduce infant class sizes for all.

It’s smart from the private schools to offer these places to low-income families.

It has put them on the front foot. It’s also generous.

On the basis of the Independent Schools Council’s (ISC) proposal, the cost to the taxpayer would be £5,500 per child – roughly the amount state schools receive annually for a pupil.

The total cost for taxpayers is £55m.

But average private school fees are around £15,500 so funding would be subsidised by the schools at an estimated £80m a year.

However, there’s evidence this is not a good financial investment.

Despite their smaller classes, private schools don’t seem to be that much better.

In 2013, tests by 15-year-olds across the UK showed state schools outperformed private schools by some way.

Also, evidence is growing that children who go to state schools do better at university compared to their privately educated counterparts.

And who benefits from the plan?

Assisted places required children to pass ability tests.

Hence, it wasn’t so much helping ‘poor children’ so much as bright children who happened to be poor.

Bright children tend to do well wherever they are educated and leaves the state sector without its easiest-to-teach pupils.

But could the policy be saved?

The ISC could follow India’s lead to impress the government.

In 2009 it passed a law requiring all private schools to take 25 per cent of pupils from among the poorest families. It has to be done at random.

No ability tests, no catchments areas.

Admission is by lottery.

If private schools were willing to follow this plan, they would be fairly sharing the burdens of the school system.

This might actually help use private school resources for those who truly need them.