Robbing Peter to pay St Paul's;News;News amp; Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
Tycoon Peter Ogden has pledged pound;25 million to help poorer children go to the best private schools, reports Biddy Passmore

"CAN YOU think of anything more pleasurable than giving away pound;25 million?" asked Peter Ogden, the smiling multi-millionaire who this week announced he was going to spend most of that sum on helping bright children from poor backgrounds go to leading private schools.

His pound;25m Ogden Trust was funded from the sale of 3.5m shares in Computacenter, the company he co-founded with a friend from the Harvard Business School in 1981. It was floated last year for more than pound;1 billion.

Mr Ogden did not want to burden his three children with his estimated pound;300m fortune ("they should have the fun of making their own way in life") and thought it pretty unreasonable to ask someone else to sort it out after his death (he is 52). So purposeful philanthropy seemed the answer.

He chose education because he considers it "fundamental to the development of an individual" and because he saw a gap: parents couldn't afford the fees at the "top" (ie private) schools and the schools, although desperate to help, were finding it harder and harder to help them.

"Most major independent schools run on a current-account basis," he said. "If they offer five scholarships that usually means higher fees for the rest.

"With some exceptions, the schools that we assume are wealthy are not wealthy."

From next September, the Ogden Trust will pay for two bursaries worth up to pound;8,000 a year for entry at 11 to the following schools: Leeds grammar; Newcastle's Royal grammar; Manchester grammar; Bolton girls'; The Perse, Cambridge; St Paul's girls', London; King Edward's, Birmingham; King Edward VI high for girls, Birmingham; Portsmouth grammar and Westminster.

Schools, in their turn, will be expected to match the two bursaries with two from their own funds, and step up their efforts to seek out every possible candidate from local primaries, ("I don't care if the head is hostile," said Mr Ogden). They will also need to make sure their means test is really thorough.

They are all keen to avoid the possibility of the scheme being hijacked by the middle-classes, a criticism made of the now defunct Assisted Places Scheme

From 2002, the Ogden scheme will be widened to include up to 40 schools and will, when it is in full swing, be supporting more than 200 bursaries a year.

Mr Ogden was himself educated at Rochdale grammar and took a BSc and doctorate in physics at Durham University and an MBA at Harvard before embarking on a successful career in investment banking.

Unlike the other millionaire philanthropist called Peter (Lampl), whose Sutton Trust is paying for an "open access" scheme at Liverpool's Belvedere school, Mr Ogden said he did not have a burning mission to restore educational opportunities. Indeed, he is not given to sweeping pronouncements about education.

He had simply come by a lot of money and seen a way of spending it that would meet a need. Some had criticised him, he said, for "spending money on sending children to posh schools" but he had made his decision and was sticking to it.

And if, in a few years' time, an Ogden bursary-holder achieved something remarkable such as winning the Nobel Prize, it would all have been worthwhile.

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