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Cost of places varies according to parental means

R Acheson might be broadly right about the social penalties of abolishing the Assisted Places Scheme. He or she reinforces an already existing case for a massive extension of the scheme in the interests of true egalitarianism, provided that participating independent schools are as fully accountable at inspections as state schools for their use of resources.

On one point, however, the letter could be misleading. The writer says that "in some parts of the country, the cost of an assisted place is actually less than the cost of a maintained school place". The cost of an assisted place is not the full cost of the place itself; the costs vary with means testing, and R Acheson does not quite tie up the "low-cost" point here with the "low-income" points made elsewhere in the letter. The assistance given to relatively prosperous parents certainly ought not to be as high as the full cost of a state school place.

There are, however, questions to answer about average costs. The standard spending assessment (SSA) for state schools in 1997-98 is likely to be higher than for 1995-96 (for which I have assisted place figures) the differentials below will not mislead anyone.

If we assume, generously, that the SSA for 1997-98 can be averaged out across primary, secondary and post-16 phases, we find that the average cost of a state school place will be Pounds 2,813. In 1995-96, fee remission (not full cost) plus incidental expenses meant that on average each assisted place cost the taxpayer Pounds 3,816.

My question to both political parties is: what is the cost of a good education?

RICHARD WILKINS General secretary Association of Christian Teachers 94a London Road St Albans Hertfordshire

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