Choice is the key to success in all sectors

11th August 1995 at 01:00
There are thriving independent schools in all civilised countries and they work alongside state schools without exciting the passions exhibited by George Walden in his article (TES, August 4). In Europe and Australasia properly funded state schools certainly "challenge the private system" as they do in areas close to Mr Walden's constituency. In the USA the degree of mobility between independent and state schools is considerable. The European Convention recognises that countries need independent schools to provide an alternative to state monopoly. They can provide a standard against which progress in state schools can be judged.

What is important is that the possibility of choosing a place in an independent school is open to all children who want it. The Assisted Places Scheme is valuable because it goes some way to making that possible. Mr Walden is being disingenuous when he says that he knows of no evidence that assistance under this scheme is going to people in need. He has been given evidence by the Independent Schools Information Service that well over 40 per cent of assisted families have incomes of less than Pounds 10,000 per annum and these have the full fees paid. A stringent means test applies and there is little help for those whose incomes exceed Pounds 20,000. As the headmaster of Colfe's in south-east London for 14 years I could have supplied ample evidence of assistance going to pupils in need, and also of the success of those helped by the scheme Mr Walden is right in saying that nothing should be done to damage independent schools with traditions of excellence and my colleagues would applaud policies which "further opened them up to the country", but if that means "opting into the state sector" some important questions would have to be answered. How much independence would be retained by the headmaster and governors? Would parents be allowed to pay means-tested fees to supplement state funding? Would the allocation of resources for educational purposes be left to the school? Would the school be allowed to take those pupils considered to be most likely to benefit from the type of education provided?

Imagination and resourcefulness are just the qualities we hope will be displayed by Labour and Liberal Democrat parties when they explain how independent schools can work in partnership with the State when they are in power.

VIVIAN ANTHONY Secretary, Headmasters' Conference 130 Regent Road Leicester

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