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Liverpool school to pilot no-fee merit scheme

THE school chosen to become Britain's first independent "open access" school should become a centre of excellence for the whole of Liverpool, according to Peter Lampl, the educational philanthropist behind the scheme.

From September 2000, The Belvedere School, an independent day school for girls in Toxteth, Liverpool, will admit all new girls aged 11 on academic merit, regardless of their parents' ability to pay the pound;1,400-a-term fees.

The estimated pound;1.7m cost of giving means-tested help to the girls who need it will be shared equally by Mr Lampl's Sutton Trust and by the Girls' Day School Trust, the group of 25 schools to which the Belvedere belongs.

"It's a super school that has just had a fantastic inspection report," said Mr Lampl "and it's in a city that needs help educationally." He hopes to build on the school's new status by helping to fund partnership schemes between the Belvedere and local state schools.

Gill Richards, the head, said she was delighted that the school would be able to keep up its wide social, religious and ethnic mix.

It is a former direct-grant school which had 40 per cent of its senior pupils on assisted places at the height of the scheme. When funding for the scheme was withdrawn last September, its intake fell because the trust was not able to provide an equivalent number of new bursaries.

After Mr Lampl announced he wanted to set up a chain of schools with "needs-blind" entry last October, many schools came forward to express an interest. He talked to more than 10 before settling on the Belvedere to pilot his scheme.

It is in a group of schools noted for academic distinction and low fees, which is owned by a trust which launched its own appeal to replace the Assisted Places Scheme.The school is not too large (460 girls in the senior school). And it is in a socially-disadvantaged area.

The entry test - to assess potential, not just achievement - will be designed by the National Foundation for Educational Research. The means-test will be more rigorous than that used for the Assisted Places Scheme, which was often criticised for letting in middle-class children through the back door -both income and capital will be assessed.

Assuming that four out of five of the 70 to 75 11-year-old girls admitted to the Belvedere each year need some assistance, the total sum needed is estimated at about pound;185,000 in the first year, rising to pound;1.7m annually after seven years.

Mr Lampl is talking to a number of other schools about further pilots - and this week urged other successful entrepreneurs, businesses and charities to follow his lead. "The Sutton Trust cannot go it alone," he said.

Peter Lampl profile, 18

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