Under Open Access all places at Belvedere, a high-performing independent day school in Liverpool, were awarded on merit, with parents paying a sliding scale of fees according to their means.
The scheme’s evaluation, Five years on, by Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson from the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, 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 the school now reflects that of Merseyside. The first cohort of Open Access girls also achieved the school’s best ever examination results – and the best in Liverpool – with 99% of students achieving at least five good GCSEs. Importantly, interviews with teachers, parents and pupils revealed the school to be a happy place with children from different backgrounds getting on well together and achieving excellent outcomes.
The researchers 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 Trust hopes that the principle of Open Access will be taken up by the Government and expanded initially to a dozen – but eventually to 100 or more – independent day schools, bringing highly-academic schools in reach of talented children, regardless of parental means. Such an initiative would be the most effective means of decisively ending the damaging divide between the state and private sectors of education.