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Private sector well aware of state schools' problems

Hilary Wilce writes entertainingly but misleadingly about the stateprivate education divide ("And never the twain shall meet", TES, May 24).

Not many people, she says, "cross from one side to another", as she has done. In fact, many more do so than she realises. According to Independent Schools Information Service research commissioned from MORI and published two years ago, 26 per cent of children entering independent schools have brothers and sisters attending state schools. That proportion has increased since the previous research was conducted in 1989.

There is other evidence of pragmatic decision-making among parents. Most (55 per cent) considered state as well as independent schools before opting for the latter; among parents choosing day schools the proportion was 59 per cent. An increasing number of children experience a mixture of state and independent schooling; 45 per cent of pupils in independent senior schools had previously attended state primaries.

It follows from this evidence that there are many more parents in the independent sector than Hilary Wilce acknowledges who are not only concerned about the state system but whose children have direct experience of it. And well over half of the parents were state educated, too.

She recognises the academic pre-eminence of independent schools. Where state-school standards are too low, is the reason not more likely to be their failure to adopt the successful practices of independent schools? Her article shows the danger of relying heavily on anecdotal evidence from what appear to be somewhat rarefied acquaintances.

It is not true either that Britain has "the largest private-school sector in the world". This depends on the definition of "private", of course, but it is indisputably larger in some of our continental neighbours and in Australia (almost four times larger) and the United States.

David Woodhead National director Independent Schools Information Service 56 Buckingham Gate London

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