State school leaders have shown support for a £1.2 million scholarship scheme aimed at working-class white boys that was reportedly rejected by two leading private schools.
Educationalist Sir Bryan Thwaites offered to leave money in his will for scholarships at Dulwich College and Winchester College, but both schools turned him down.
However, the idea of giving targeted support to working-class white pupils has been welcomed by leading figures in state schools – including the chief executive of the Harris Federation, Sir Daniel Moynihan.
The Times reports that in a letter to Sir Bryan, Sir Daniel wrote: “We need to improve the progress made by low-income white students. The kind of scheme which you propose would make an enormous difference.”
And Desmond Deehan, head of Townley Grammar School in Bexleyheath, South London, reportedly said: “The schools that find it harder to make sufficient progress frequently have white working-class populations within them that are underachieving."
Mr Deehan, whose selective school has academy status and accepts boys into its sixth form, added: "I am really glad to see this as a topic.”
Sir Bryan is now said to be "surveying the field", looking for state schools to work with.
There have been several warnings about the performance of white working-class communities in recent years.
Tes revealed last year that a group of Northern heads claimed that the Progress 8 performance measure was biased against schools serving deprived white communities.
There have also been concerns raised that Ofsted inspection data suggests schools serving deprived white areas are less likely to receive a positive inspection than those serving other disadvantaged communities.
In a letter to The Times, Neil Roskilly, chief executive of the Independent Schools Association, described the performance of working-class white pupils as a disgrace.
He said: “Private philanthropy, no matter how generous, would not even dent the national disgrace of disadvantaged white boys’ underachievement, particularly in coastal areas.”
The Times reported yesterday that Dulwich College and Wincester had both rejected Sir Bryan’s offer of a scholarship. The report suggested the decisions were made amid fear of racial discrimination.
The BBC News reported that the two schools had defended their decision.
A spokesperson for Winchester College said: "The school, in common with many universities, has outreach schemes aimed at carefully selected and under-represented communities. These schemes operate successfully and are regularly reviewed.
"The school will continue to discuss with benefactors the effective delivery of their intentions.
"But the trustees are clear, having consulted widely, that acceptance of a bequest of this nature would neither be in the interests of the school as a charity, nor the specific interests of those it aims to support through its work.
"Notwithstanding legal exceptions to the relevant legislation, the school does not see how discrimination on grounds of a boy's colour could ever be compatible with its values."
Master of Dulwich College, Dr Joseph Spence, said: "We are extremely grateful to the many benefactors who support the college's bursary fund. Their generosity means we are able to offer academically able boys a place at Dulwich College.
"I am, however, resistant to awards made with any ethnic or religious criteria. Bursaries are an engine of social mobility, and they should be available to all who pass our entrance examinations."