Middle-class parents are deserting local authority schools in Glasgow for the independent sector. Figures revealed to secondary heads at a recent conference showed that the number of pupils from social classes I and II leaving independent schools has risen from 14 per cent 20 years ago to 49 per cent in the early 1990s.
The shift, identified by Lindsay Paterson of Moray House Institute of Education from the Scottish School Leavers Survey, means that there are proportionately more middle-class leavers from the independent system in Glasgow than in Edinburgh, where the equivalent figure stood at 46 per cent. Professor Paterson warned of "a comprehensive education system which is beginning to fray at the edges".
Malcolm Green, chairman of Glasgow's education committee, said: "These are most alarming figures and we shall have to study their implications urgently and seriously. If the trend continues, it means that middle-class parents will have only a minority interest in local authority schooling. For too long we have ignored this challenge. We can't simply shrug it off."
Professor Paterson, a statistician as well as educational expert, stood by his findings this week despite a surprised reaction from the city's headteachers. Jean Murray of Shawlands Academy said her school traditionally lost pupils to Hutchesons' Grammar but she detected no rising trend.
Mrs Murray pointed out that not all pupils at Glasgow's independent schools come from the city. Professor Paterson acknowledged that the figures referred to place of schooling rather than residence. But his findings showed that the increase in the proportion of middle-class leavers from independent schools in Glasgow is sharply out of line with experience elsewhere.
The rise in the Glasgow conurbation, which takes in Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Dunbartonshire, was from 5 per cent to 14 per cent during the past 20 years, from 30 per cent to 46 per cent in Edinburgh and from 8 per cent to 12 per cent in Scotland as a whole.
Professor Paterson said: "Two questions still arise for public sector schools. Why are they not able to attract middle-class incomers as well and why did the Edinburgh independent schools not similarly attract a growing proportion of middle-class students from beyond the city's boundary?" He discounted suggestions that the trend in Glasgow reflected a static independent school population taking a greater share of a falling secondary age-group. The main contraction in the state sector, Professor Paterson said, came from a decline in the number of working-class rather than middle-class pupils. Leavers from the top social groups accounted for 17 per cent of all Glasgow leavers in the early 1990s.
The expansion of the assisted places scheme was not a factor either, as parental incomes would rule out applications.
Robin Easton, headteacher of the independent High School of Glasgow, reports "a constantly healthy demand for places. We are having to make particularly difficult decisions for next August about those whom we shall have to turn away."
Mr Easton could not comment on his intake "in class terms" but noted that a high proportion of today's parents had not attended independent schools.
The findings appear to confirm other research evidence (TESS, February 9) which indicates that educationally Glasgow is an increasingly polarised city, with middle-class parents opting for a small number of magnet schools.