Diane Spencer reports on a possible way forward for schools that depend on the threatened Assisted Places Scheme.
Boots the chemist is poised to become Boots the sponsor of a pupil at Nottingham High School for Girls The pharmaceutical company bursary has been welcomed by Dick Davison, deputy director of the Independent Schools Information Service.
Mr Davison sees it as a hopeful sign in the light of the Labour party's determination to abolish the Assisted Places Scheme. Like many independent schools, Nottingham High is heavily involved in the scheme which subsidises the fees of pupils from poorer homes.
"Prudent governing bodies will be reading the runes and making contingency plans to ensure their schools continue to serve a wider community if there's a change of government," he said.
Every year for the next 10 years, Boots will fund a place for one pupil who shows particular promise in maths and science.
Nottingham High, which takes 1,100 girls aged four to 18, was founded in 1875 and is the largest of the 25 secondaries in the Girls' Public Day School Trust. Fees are likely to be around Pounds 4,000 when the Boots' scheme starts next year.
The award is the largest donation made so far to the Minerva Fund, set up by the GPDST in 1976 to help academically-able girls from poorer families when the old direct-grant scheme ended.
Alison Graham, director of the Minerva Fund and Network, said: "We have always been involved in schemes for families of modest means. We have nearly 3, 000 girls on assisted places and several hundred on our own bursaries."
She hoped that other companies would follow Boots' example. "We are looking at ways of increasing the fund as one in four or five girls in our senior schools is on some form of help. It's a major undertaking."
She thought that other firms would be attracted to the idea of a talented workforce from GPDST schools. More than 90 per cent went to university. "They are not just good academically, but they are well-prepared, well-rounded young women."
Public-school leaders concede that bursary schemes will not make up the loss of funding if assisted places are phased out. Come September and the Government's latest expansion of the scheme, 360 schools will receive a total of Pounds 118 million in state subsidies.