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Private schools try to be good neighbours

More than three-quarters of private schools are involved in activities with the local community or their neighbouring state school, according to a survey by the Independent Schools Council.

The report, Good Neighbours, will be given to the Government's advisory group set up to encourage partnership between the private and state sectors in education. The White Paper, Excellence in Schools, said private schools should, as a part of their charitable role, offer their facilities to the wider community.

However, while more than 59 per cent of the 931 schools which took part in the survey reported some community use of their facilities and 20 per cent frequent use, only 17 per cent said state schools used them occasionally and 4 per cent frequently. Four out of five schools halls are rented out for Brownie packs, whist drives and line dancing - and only a quarter make a profit out of the exercise.

The private sector says it is enjoying a surprisingly positive relationship with the Labour Government. While it opposed the abolition of the Assisted Places Scheme, it welcomed the announcement by schools standards minister Stephen Byers that charitable status will not be removed from independent schools.

Ian Beer, chair of the Independent Schools Council, said: "This is not a glib response to a new political climate. The majority of partnerships and co-operative arrangements described in the survey are well-established.

"It shows there is a host of areas in which both types of school can co-operate without compromising their standards or ethos."

The areas of sport, music and community service are the most common for joint activities. The report says: "Joint activities more commonly involve the local community than state schools, but there is a significant contact between the sectors in games and sport and signs of increased contact in such areas as in-service training and homework clubs."

However a number of respondents blamed the local council for putting obstacles in the way, such as refusing planning permission.

Surrey County Council has started a scheme which will allow 200 children from poor backgrounds a place in one of the county's private schools. The council will pay the amount it would cost to teach the child in the state sector and will establish a trust fund to raise money to cover the rest of the fees. One in five Surrey children attends a private school.

Andrew Povey, education chair, said: "In return we expect the schools to open their facilities to many other children in state schools, for example some already hold masterclasses on Saturdays for top juniors. There may also be scope to offer the specialist subjects, such as Japanese, that private schools teach."

Other examples mentioned in the report include: the Stafford Saturday school run at Brooklands for primary children;Latin taught to pupils of Marches comprehensive at Oswestry school, Shropshire; and an in-service training programme for local school staff at St James's The Abbey, West Malvern, Hereford and Worcester.

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