Eton makes government squirm with pleasure and sponsors new state boarding school - 31 January 2013
David Cameron and Michael Gove will no doubt be delighted today by the announcement that Eton College is to sponsor a new state boarding school.
News that the Prime Minister's alma mater will be the sole educational sponsor is just the publicity coup needed for the government's campaign to export independent sector lifestyle choices to the masses.
Eton says that Holyport College near Maidenhead will be "modelled on an independent boarding school", with a house system and homework on the premises for everyone, not just boarders. There will even be a "Christian ethos".
It gives no word as to whether the school's pupils - 20 per cent of whom "must be eligible for the pupil premium" - will have to don the famous pound;130 tailcoats worn at Eton. But the school is state-funded and boarding bursaries will be available, so expect parents to be queuing up for the planned 500 places by 2020.
Holyport will be the second free school in Eton's crown - it already co-sponsors the London Academy of Excellence sixth-form college in Newham, East London, which provides local teenagers with a springboard to elite universities.
Eton is keen to show that this project is inclusive and a key aspect is the school's aim to take on some of its predicted 225 boarders from local authority care or at risk lists.
Eton headmaster Tony Little previously expressed concerns about dropping vulnerable children directly into the rarified surroundings of Eton, but this state-funded satellite seems a middle way.
Campaign groups such as the Royal National Children's Foundation have been calling for an increase in boarding for vulnerable children, so they will no doubt welcome the move.
The State Boarding Schools' Association is also expected to get behind another addition to its fold, but it will no doubt continue to call on the government to develop a coherent national strategy for state boarding, rather than maintain its current piecemeal approach.
Melvyn Roffe, head of Wymondham College in Norfolk, complained recently that two-thirds of the country's 38 state boarding schools had not received funding for building projects for at least two decades. Holyport College aims to be socially inclusive but with all the benefits of Eton's educational expertise and the stamp of private school kudos.
However, one wonders to what extent Eton will influence the new school: will Holyport flourish on the back of Eton's name by attracting the "right" sort of families, or because of the facilities, staff and leadership it offers? Or will it simply make Eton look a bit less exclusive by reaching out to the impoverished state sector?
We look forward to watching the project unfold. Let's hope it is a case of not just "Floreat Etona" but Floreat Holyporta.
- Don't be afraid to tell the blog's editor Ed Dorrell what you think
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