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Assisted places scheme made people rich and successful, research finds

“Private school pupils become rich and successful”: the findings of new research commissioned by social mobility charity The Sutton Trust are hardly surprising, but make interesting reading nonetheless.

The survey found that 40 per cent of people who benefited from the now-defunct assisted places scheme are now earning more than £90,000 a year.

And three-quarters of the 77 respondents – who are now all in their 40s - expected to be even better off in ten years’ time.

Even those who didn’t go to university managed to enter “solidly middle class occupations with a good income”, the research found.

As well as gaining good qualifications and jobs, the assisted place holders felt their schools helped them develop strong self-discipline and self-reliance, as well as enduring social networks.

"Virtually all" have continued to gain promotion in well-paid professional and managerial occupations, the Sutton Trust said.

Assisted places beneficiaries were also highly likely to send their children to private schools themselves. Of those with school-aged children, nearly half chose private schools for their children.

The assisted places scheme - which lasted from 1980 to 1997 - was criticised at the time for not always benefiting children from low-income households, and being exploited for school fee discounts by the middle classes.

In this week’s research, it is impossible to tell whether the success of the assisted place holders surveyed was down to their background, or their private education.

However, the Sutton Trust said these findings provide strong evidence for their argument that more poor children should have the chance to attend private schools for free or at reduced rates.

As such, they do not want a return to assisted places – where some pupils from hard-up backgrounds felt socially isolated at private school. Relatively few places in each school – 10 to 20 per cent – were assisted.

Instead, they continue to bang the drum for “Open Access” – a scheme that would open up all the places at 80 participating schools on merit alone, not ability to pay.  

Peter Lampl, founder of the trust, said: “This would make a major contribution to social mobility by opening up independent day schools to all young people enabling them not only to thrive academically but also to gain the social skills and access to the networks that are crucial to success.”

The only obstacle to the Sutton Trust's scheme is the cost: The government would have to stump up £180 million a year to make Open Access work. As austerity continues, it is looking increasingly unlikely this will happen.

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