A five year evaluation of Britain’s only project to open up a private day secondary school to all children on the basis of merit rather than wealth through the Open Access scheme at The Belvedere Girls’ School in the Toxteth area of Liverpool confirms its success in raising opportunities and attainment for a wide and socially diverse group of youngsters. Its success raises questions as to whether this should be extended to other schools.
The scheme has been pioneered since 2000 through a joint partnership between the Sutton Trust, established in 1997 to improve social mobility, and the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), which owns the school as part of a network of 26 successful schools.
Five years on, a report by Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham has concluded:
“Judged against its internal aims, Open Access at The Belvedere can be counted a great success. It has achieved its main objective of opening up the School to high ability children from low-income homes. Pupils, parents and teachers have commented very favourably. Social mixing has been good in contrast to what has been reported for a forerunner, the Assisted Places Scheme. Open Access has shown how the important resource of independent schools could be incorporated into a national system.”
The researchers found that the proportion of girls eligible for free school meals admitted during the first five years of Open Access was 33% – more than twice the national average – and that the social mix of children at the school now reflects the social mix in Merseyside.
Last summer when the first cohort of girls sat their GCSEs, the school achieved its best ever results and became the top performer in Liverpool, with 99% of students achieving at least five good GCSE (with grades A*-C).
Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, hopes that the successful scheme will ultimately be taken up by Government and expanded initially to 12 – but eventually to 100 or more – independent day schools. He writes in a foreword: “The positive results of this evaluation reinforce my conviction that Open Access is the most effective means of decisively ending the divide between the state and private sectors of education.”
Barbara Harrison, Chief Executive of the GDST, adds “We’re delighted by the achievements of the Open Access scheme at The Belvedere School, which have enabled all our girls to achieve their full potential. We’re committed to maintaining those principles of access and educational excellence as we take the school forward into its next phase of development.”
The School is continuing its pioneering history by becoming part of the Government’s Academy programme. The researchers end their evaluation by saying: “For the moment The Belvedere Scheme remains a demonstration of what could be achieved were there the will.”