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Head slams 'policy of distraction'

Partnerships between state and private schools are under fire, reports Graeme Paton.

A pound;1 million-a-year government scheme to fund partnerships between state and independent schools is failing to make an impact, according to a leading private head. Andrew Boggis, next year's chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, said the programme was a cheap "diversionary tactic".

The warden of Forest school in north-east London which charges pound;10,131 a year, spoke out as the Government announced it was spending pound;1.2 million on the scheme this academic year. The cash, funding 32 projects, is expected to give individual schools up to pound;18,750 to create links.

The Independent Schools Council, which supports the scheme, said it was talking to ministers about expanding the scheme in future years. But Mr Boggis said that the scheme had so far missed the opportunity to capitalise on goodwill between the sectors.

"I consider it to be a policy of distraction: short on cash and long on rhetoric," he said. "It is a convenient diversionary tactic for the Government - soak up people's energies, reward some schools with a few baubles while conveniently ignoring the fact that all decent independent schools have for years quietly and systematically been undertaking a host of unsung partnerships with their local schools."

Next month's annual meeting of the HMC, the conference of Britain's leading 240 private schools, is expected to renew focus on independent schools'

links with the state sector.

Ruth Kelly will become the first education secretary in living memory to address the meeting at the De Vere Belfry hotel in Warwickshire. The conference will coincide with a reading in the House of Lords of the long-awaited Charity Bill, which will force private schools to prove their public benefit in order to hold on to their generous tax breaks.

Mr Boggis said there was a renewed enthusiasm among private schools to work with state schools. But he said the independentstate school programme (ISSP), to which the Government has contributed pound;7m since it was launched in 1998, had failed to make an impact. He said contributions had to be upped to at least pound;50,000 to make a real difference, although the existing formal project should be "quietly ditched" because it erected "false barriers" between the two sectors.

Two evaluations of the ISSP published last year by Ofsted and the National College for School Leadership, which were largely based on comments made by teachers who participated, praised the scheme, saying it had led to greater co-operation between private and state schools.

Jonathan Shephard, general secretary of the ISC, said it was negotiating with the Government with a view to expanding the ISSP. He said resources should be channelled towards subjects suffering staff shortages at state schools, such as languages and sciences, which are strong in the private sector.


Benefits of sharing

The pound;8,391-a-year Yarm school, Teesside, is one of the biggest supporters of the partnership programme. The private school, a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, has launched three major projects with neighbouring state schools. One pound;75,000 scheme, now in its third year, has seen Yarm link with Grangefield school, Stockton-on-Tees, to share the latest design and technology equipment, and one specialist technician. A Pounds 50,000 project allows gifted pupils from three comprehensives in Middlesbrough to take extended courses at the private school in subjects including classics, psychology and astronomy.

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