Beneficiaries of the assisted places scheme, which provided a means-tested education at independent schools for young people from less advantaged homes until 1997, continue to reap the benefits from their private education, according to a new study for the Sutton Trust.

The research by Professor Sally Power, Professor Geoff Whitty and Dr Stuart Sims at the Wales Institute for Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD) is the latest in a series of reports tracking students from the Assisted Places Scheme since 1982.

It shows that as well as gaining good qualifications and jobs, the Assisted Place holders felt their schools helped them develop strong personal attributes, such as self-discipline and self-reliance, as well as enduring social networks. Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said that the results of this new research reinforced the Trust’s case for an Open Access scheme that would provide needs blind admissions to leading independent day schools, enabling able children from low and middle income families to attend those schools based on ability rather than ability to pay.

Earlier surveys of this group, which compared the performance of children of similar high ability and similar less advantaged backgrounds attending state schools with those taking an assisted place at an independent school, found that Assisted Place holders gained better qualifications and went to more prestigious universities than those who attended comprehensive schools.

The new survey suggests that Assisted Place Holders, who are now in their forties,continue to reap the benefits of their independent education. Virtually all have continuedto gain promotion in well-paid professional and managerial occupations. Over 40% are earning more than £90,000 a year and over two thirds said the economic crisis had not affected their standard of living.

Three quarters of respondents expected to be even better off in ten years’ time. Even those who didn’t go to university are in solidly middle class occupations with agood income, perhaps benefiting from a ‘private school premium’. Respondents reported job satisfaction and security, and they continued to do well even during the recent economic downturn. A significant proportion anticipated being able to take early retirement.

Respondents said that their independent schools helped them develop personal attributes, such as self-discipline and self-reliance. Their schools also contributed to thedevelopment of enduring social networks. Although family ties remain strong, the Assisted Place holders move in well-qualified circles of friends, and a relatively high proportion married privately educated spouses. Three quarters of the respondents now have children. Of those with school-aged children, nearly half have chosen private schools for their children.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said today: “The original research took two groups of children who all qualified for assisted places and had very similar ability and parental background. Some took the assisted place and went to independent schools and the rest went to state schools. Those who went to independent schools did much better in their GCSES, A-levels, accessed better universities and are in higher paying jobs than those who went to state schools.

“This new research with the assisted places group confirms the extent to which able children from less advantaged homes gain from an independent school education. It shows the importance of ensuring that access to the best independent day schools is not restricted to those who can afford to pay full fees.

“However, the Assisted Places Scheme was too limited in its reach. Because of the small number of assisted places in each school, it resulted in many students feeling socially out of place. Instead, there is a much better model in the Open Access scheme, where all places are based on merit alone, and which the Sutton Trust and The Girls’ Day School Trust trialled with considerable success at the Belvedere School in Liverpool from 2000-2007. “Under Open Access, all the places at participating independent day schools would be available on merit alone, with parents paying a sliding scale of fees according to means. This would make a major contribution to social mobility by opening up independent day schools to all young people enabling them not only to thrive academically but also to gain the social skills and access to the networks that are crucial to success.”

Professor Sally Power, the report’s author, said: “The relative unimportance the Assisted Place holders attach to factors such as luck and social background suggests that, forthese individuals, the scheme alleviated the impact of socio-economic disadvantage. Even those who didn’t go to university are now in solidly middle class occupations withgood incomes. This suggests that they have benefited from a private school premiumover and above that associated with educational attainment.”


1.   The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 135 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to Access to the Professions.

2.   The research Lasting Benefits: The Long-term Legacy of the Assisted Places Scheme: Consequences for Assisted Place Holders was conducted by Professor Sally Power, Professor Geoff Whitty and Stuart Sims at the Wales Institute for Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD) in Cardiff.

3.   The Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD) was established in 2009 to draw together and build upon the existing expertise in quantitative and qualitative research methods and methodologies at the universities of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, South Wales and Swansea. WISERD undertakes research and capacity building activities that underpin research infrastructure in the economic and social sciences across Wales and beyond.

4.  Since 1982, state school and Assisted Place students at independent schools have been tracked by the researchers, and several studies have been published. A 2006 report showed that independent school pupils did better than state educated respondents at GCSE and A-level. It also showed that they gained places at Oxbridge with lower A level results than their state-schooled counterparts. They also earned significantly more than their state-educated colleagues. The research also highlighted the additional costs of participating in informal activities associated with being in independent schools. For this research, 77 former Assisted Place holders who are now in their forties were surveyed.

5.  Earlier Sutton Trust research has shown that until 1976, 70% of independent day schools were principally state funded via the direct grant scheme and a myriad of local schemes. The Assisted Places Scheme was introduced in 1980 by the Conservatives toenable a limited number of academically able students from low and middle incomehomes whose parents could not afford full fees to go to independent schools. Over 17 years, more than 75,000 pupils received means-tested assistance from public funds toattend private schools in England and Wales. However, only a minority of places at participating schools, typically 10- 20% were funded on a means tested basis. TheScheme was abolished in 1997 by the Labour government.

6.  The Sutton Trust proposals for Open Access would benefit significantly more students than Assisted Places, and crucially 100% of places at each school would be available based on merit alone instead of the 10-20% under assisted places.  Open Access would have a sliding scale of fees based on family income.  In a pilot at the Belvedere School in Liverpool from 2000-2007, 30% of pupils were on free places, 40% paid partial fees and the rest paid full fees. 90 leading independent day schools support the Trust’s proposals. For more on Open Access please visit

Click for links to the 2009 and 2006 research on the experiences of Assisted Place holders

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