PRIVATE schools are damaging equality of education in Britain and must be banned from selecting pupils by ability, according to a new pamplet by Labour's "in-house" think-tank.
Independent schools must also be stripped of their charitable status unless they can demonstrate that they are working with inner-city schools and children from low-income families, argues the Fabian Society report.
The first priority of the Labour Government if it wins a second term must be to increase the annual per-pupil funding in the state sector, currently pound;3,100 on average - within 10 years, argues Harry Brighouse, professor of philosophy of education at London University's Institute of Education in the pamphlet A level playing field: the reform of private schools. The average day-school fees in private schools are pound;5,823 a year.
The greatest lesson that the state sector could learn from private schools is that spending more money on education produces better academic results, Professor Brighouse argues. Far fewer parents would find private schools appealing if state schools were funded at the same level, he said.
He recognises that abolishing private schools is unfeasible but believes that banning selection would increase parental choice.
Being educated alongside a high-achieving peer group is an advantae that people should not be allowed to buy for their children, he argues. He added that charitable status should not be an automatic right of private schools but should be applied for.
At July's meeting of Labour's national policy forum, party members tried to include the loss of private schools' charitable status in the document which will form the basis of the party's general election manifesto. But, ministers spoke against the idea and it failed to attract the necessary support to be voted on at the party conference in September.
Until recently the private sector had been almost completely ignored by the Government, apart from the abolition of the Assisted Places Scheme, Professor Brighouse said.
But, in September schools minister Estelle Morris praised the private sector and said it had nothing to fear from New Labour. Party supporters should no longer feel that they had to reject fee-paying schools for their children on principle, she said. Labour's 1983 manifesto contained a commitment to abolish private education but it was removed in l987.
The Fabian Society is the only think-tank affiliated to the Labour party and its members include David Blunkett and Tony Blair.
A level playing field: the reform of private schools is available from the Fabian Society, price pound;7.50