Report Overview

A survey into the fortunes of over 70 people who benefited from the government’s Assisted Places scheme (1980-1997). This is one of a series of reports on these alumni, and is written by Geoff Whitty, Sally Power and Stuart Sims.


The Assisted Places Scheme was introduced in 1980 by the Conservative Government to provide a ‘ladder of opportunity’ for academically able students from poor homes. Over the next 17 years, more than 75,000 pupils received means-tested assistance from public funds to attend the most selective and prestigious private schools in England and Wales. The Scheme proved controversial and was eventually abolished when New Labour came to power in 1997. However, the issue of how best to cater for the academically able child has never really been resolved and there have been recent calls for initiatives similar to the Assisted Places Scheme to be reintroduced. This report seeks to contribute to the debate through examining the long term legacy of the Scheme through tracing the progress of some of its beneficiaries.

Earlier research compared a group of students who all qualified for Assisted Places and, for all intents and purposes, had similar family backgrounds and ability. Some took the Assisted Places and some went to state schools. The research showed that Assisted Place holders 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. By their thirties they also earned significantly more than their state-educated colleagues.

This research draws on a survey of 77 former Assisted Place holders, drawn from the earlier sample, who are now in their early forties. The survey was designed to answer four broad questions:

1.  How have Assisted Place holders progressed in terms of occupational status, security and satisfaction?
2.  What role do they perceive their secondary education played in shaping their future?
3.  To what extent has it influenced social allegiances and attitudes?
4.  What is the legacy of their Assisted Place for the education of their children?

Key Findings

  • Assisted Place holders continue to benefit from their secondary school education. Even those who did not go to university are now in middle class occupations with a good income. This suggests that they may have benefitted from a private school premium over and above that associated with educational attainment. They have also demonstrated significant resilience in the face of the current economic climate.
  • The Assisted Place holders attributed their success to ability and hard work. It is possible that the Scheme lessened any of the potentially damaging effects on attainment commonly associated with socio-economic disadvantage. In addition, our respondents report that their secondary schools were significant in the development of a range of personal attributes, such as self-discipline and self-reliance. These schools also contributed to enduring social networks.
  • In spite of their upward social mobility, our respondents have maintained strong ties with their families. However, their social circles are cosmopolitan and similarly highly educated.  They also are more likely to have settled down with partners who are well-qualified. A high proportion have partners who were also privately educated. The majority of respondents believed that standards in state-maintained schools were lower than in private schools.
  • Their own experience of private education has strongly influenced the decisions that they have made about their children’s education. Around half our respondents with children have chosen private schools for their children (the national average is 7 per cent). Our respondents are overwhelmingly in favour of the reintroduction of the Assisted Places Scheme.