Eton is the exception, not the rule, Mr Smith

16th May 1997 at 01:00
Independent school members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers must have been disappointed to see that Peter Smith's advice to the Labour government "to do something about independent schools" (TES, May 2) involved doing something punitive disguised as "a positive strategy".

One flaw in his argument that "the wealthier part of the independent sector could support a state system strapped for cash" is the apparent assumption that these parts are the rule rather than the exception.

He mentions Eton. But Eton is an exception, which may be the reason for the Department for Education and Employment official never having been asked why "wealthy educational charities" could not provide a Private Finance Initiative.

As Mr Smith should know, very few independent schools have large endowments. Most have only their fee income. Some do not even own their own buildings. All those with charitable status devote part of their income to helping pupils with fees.

Overall, they give away (through scholarships and bursaries) twice as much as they gain from their charitable status; one pupil in every five is helped with the fees by the schools themselves.

That ratio also applies to many individual schools (such as Eton College) founded for poor scholars, which Mr Smith may mistakenly regard as "operating far from their original founders' intentions".

It should be possible to develop genuinely positive strategies for co-operation between the state and independent sectors. But Mr Smith's ideas are more likely to result in the closure of good schools and unemployment among his members.

DAVID WOODHEAD, National director, Independent Schools Information Service, 56 Buckingham Gate, London SW1

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