Half the parents in the country would be likely to send their children to private schools if they could afford to do so according to a MORI survey commissioned by the Sutton Trust, and published today.

 Following these findings, the Sutton Trust has renewed its call to the Government to expand the very successful £2m a year pilot open access scheme at the Belvedere School in Liverpool to at least a dozen other schools as a first step to introducing it at 100 top independent day schools in the country.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman and founder of the Sutton Trust, has called on the Government to look more closely at the scheme following Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education’s remarks at a conference of independent schools earlier this month when he called for a widening of collaboration between the two sectors of education and revealed that the Government will be funding state school pupils to attend independent schools at the age of 16 for teaching in certain subjects such as Classics and Further Maths.

Sir Peter said: “Open access at independent secondary schools for our most able children is only a step away from this and as the MORI survey shows, it would have the support of the majority of parents in this country. Opening up 100% of the places at our top independent schools, on the basis of merit and regardless of income, would change the nature of those schools and would lead to the removal of the unparalleled educational apartheid which exists in this country. A recent study for the Sutton Trust has shown that the gap in performance between independent and state schools is the highest of any advanced country.”

The Sutton Trust has sent Mr Clarke a copy of its proposals in a new report – Open Access: A Practical Way Forward – New Developments – which sets out the arguments for Open Access and describes the success of the Liverpool Scheme which it has been funding for the past four years jointly with the Girls’ Day School Trust, which owns The Belvedere School. The families of more than 70% of the pupils at the school receive help to pay all or part of the school’s fees, resulting in a much wider social mix of pupils than before.

In the report, support for the scheme comes from Dr Martin Stephen, High Master of Manchester Grammar School and this year’s chairman of the Headmasters’ Conference (HMC). He says: “We are committed to needs-blind entry. We would have no hesitation in becoming part of an open access scheme.”

His remarks are echoed by other heads of the most successful schools in the country including: Graham Able, Master of Dulwich College and last year’s Chairman of the HMC; Tony Evans, Headmaster of King’s College, Wimbledon, also a former Chairman of the HMC; Roger Dancey, Chief Master of King Edward’s School, Birmingham; and David Levin, Headmaster of the City of London School for Boys.

This survey by MORI was carried out between April 29th and May 4th 2004 among a nationally representative quota sample of 644 parents throughout Great Britain who were interviewed in more than 200 areas.

Asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the proposal that all children should have the opportunity to go to private school regardless of their family’s income at the Government’s or taxpayer’s expense, 47% agreed compared with 30% who disagreed. 46% of parents in social class AB disagree, compared to only 18% of parents in social class DE.

Asked whether they would send their children to a private school if money was not an issue, 50% said yes (22% definitely and 28% probably), compared to 44% who said they would either probably or definitely not do so (29% probably not and 13% definitely not).
50% also agreed with a proposal for pupils to be selected by an entrance test at the ages of 11 and 12 to go to different types of private or state secondary schools with 35% disagreeing.

Nearly two-thirds (62%) of the sample agreed with the statement that pupils from state schools are at a disadvantage to private schools pupils when they apply for places at top universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, while only19% disagreed.

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