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Independent sector's state debt needs investigation

YOU have to admire the "independent" schools for their entrepreneurship, or is it cheek? (TES, January 12).

They are asking the Government to help fund a replacement for the discredited Assisted Places Scheme. They want the state to contribute up to pound;3,000 for each pupil educated privately. This would, they say, compensate for the pound;1.7 billion the sector saves the Exchequer annually by educating its 600,000 pupils.

No mention of the financial assistance from government in the form of Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office funding of boarding places. No mention of charitable status, which exempts them from all tax on shares and property; corporation tax; capital gains tax; stamp duty; inheritance tax on new endowments and most business rates. No mention of the lack of VAT on fees and certainly no mention of the "misappropriation" of endowments laid to educate the poor and now enriching a small number of schools who charge up to pound;15,000 a year.

Based on the figure of 600,000 pupils, the state is estimated to be giving the independent sector over pound;1.1bn each year.

Also in anarticle (TES, January 12) the Independent Schools Information Service suggested that universities should not be "brow-beaten into discriminating against private-school pupils" and that last summer's intervention by Chancellor Gordon Brown on behalf of Laura Spence, the comprehensive student rejected by Oxford, was as an example of "social engineering".

At a time when we in maintained schools are, quite rightly, encouraged to manage ourselves, our teachers and our pupils better to achieve higher outcomes and to learn from the "independent" sector, the most significant thing we can learn is that, other factors being equal, higher funding produces better results. No other advanced country has such a wide funding gap between its state and its private schools.

I challenge the Government to establish an inquiry into "independent" school funding and let's see who subsidises whom, who is guilty of social engineering and who is discriminated against when it comes to entry to our elite universities.

Phil Limbert

Headteacher, Ossett school Storrs Hill Road, West Yorkshire

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