No party can support the ethics of assisted places

14th March 1997 at 00:00
Mr Acheson challenges those who decry the Assisted Places Scheme to "credit the electorate with the intelligence to deserve the truth".

The scheme's existence amounts to a public pronouncement that the maintained sector is incapable of coping with very able children. (Mr Acheson, himself, warns us of the "risk" for "children with real potential".) This suggestion that children need rescuing from state schools, is damaging to staff and pupil morale, and to public confidence.

Comprehensive schools are deprived of some of their most able pupils with the associated loss of stimulation for their peer group and the detrimental effects on exam results and the viability of A-Level classes. Such factors can reduce a school's ability to compete with neighbouring schools for pupils and thus start a downward spiral.

An original justification for the scheme was that it would build a bridge between the independent and maintained sectors. John Rae, headteacher of the independent Westminster School, disagreed. "You don't provide a link with a school by stealing its best pupils against its will," he said (TES, January 13, 1984).

And who is benefiting? While places might indeed often go to the children of single parents or those on low incomes, many of these are middle-class people who have fallen on hard times, often through divorce, and who know how to ensure that their children go to the kind of schools they went to. A recent MORI survey commissioned by the Independent Schools Information Service only found 28 per cent of the pupils were the children of unskilled manual workers or the unemployed (TES, February 14).

Finally, I would maintain that it is not ethical to spend Pounds 125 million of overstretched public funds each year on enhancing the opportunities of individual children if it is detrimental to the education system as a whole.

Surely, any political party committed to fair play would abolish the scheme.

SALLY MORGAN 11 Hill Close Charlbury Chipping Norton Oxfordshire

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