Independents' plans to keep social mix

13th June 1997 at 01:00
Independent schools are unveiling plans to fill the funding gap created by the Government's abolition of the assisted places scheme.

Last week the Girls' Public Day School Trust announced a Pounds 70-million plan to preserve all 3,000 places in its 24 secondary schools from September 1998 when the scheme begins to be phased out.

Like many others in the independent sector, the trust saw the political writing on the wall some years ago and made contingency plans for a change of government.

Although places at GPDST's schools could be filled with full fee-payers, the trust says this would depart from its philosophical and educational aims of helping bright girls from poorer families.

Margaret Rudland, head of Godolphin and Latymer, a Girls' School Association secondary in West London, shares that ideal. "We are very very keen to retain our accessibility," she said. The school, founded in 1905, was a voluntary-aided grammar school until 1977 and "reluctantly" went independent when the Inner London Education Authority wanted to close it. A quarter of the 700 girls are on assisted places.

"The school has always found ways and means of keeping a genuine social mix -it is one of our hallmarks. We're not posh. It would be so sad to become a school just for the wealthy," said the head.

To avoid this, the school governors are relaunching the bursary fund set up when the school became independent. Miss Rudland estimates that Pounds 10 million would be needed in the long term to provide the same number of assisted places.

Manchester Grammar, England's largest independent day school, also aims to raise the same sum with a fund-raising launch next January to ensure that no bright boy who passes the rigorous entrance exam is turned away. Martin Stephen, high master at the 1,500-pupil school, said that apart from the bursary fund, he would like parents and old boys to sponsor a student for at least a year, paying some or all of the annual Pounds 4,300 fees. Some 250 boys currently benefit from the APS.

Terra Nova, a three-to-13 prep school in Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, has established a Pounds 100,000 award fund to mark its centenary. Charitable donations will enable eight 8 to 11-year-old boys and girls to take up places from this September with one award reserved for a pupil talented in music, drama or sport.

"This is our own AP scheme - we saw it coming," said Robin Lewis, the head.

Haberdashers' Monmouth boys' and girls' schools will also introduce their own schemes for more than 200 11-year-olds from September 1998, at a cost of about Pounds 1 million a year. Payments will come from an endowment income from the founder, William Jones, who left Pounds 9,000 to the Haberdashers' Company in 1614 for a free school in Monmouth.

But other schools are less fortunate. King Edward's School, in Witley, Surrey, established in 1553 for needy children, fears for the future. Rodney Fox, the head, has written to David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, expressing concern that some of his pupils will have no alternative but to go to children's homes when the APS ends.

The school offers places for children who need to board for various reasons, such as a death or illness in the family. Before the APS, education authorities used to provide fees, said Mr Fox. Since the scheme began the school's endowment fund was used for the boarding part of the fees. Out of the 480 boys and girls, 220 are supported by the school, with 80 of those being helped by the APS and bursaries.

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