Three in five people are in favour of a 'Free to Families' scheme to create up to 10,000 new places a year at independent schools

Posted on: 03 Mar 2017

The majority of people in Britain think the proposal for independent schools to create up to 10,000 free places a year for children from low income families, through joint funding with government, is a good idea.

Parents of children at senior school are the strongest advocates of the scheme, with 67% in favour.

New polling, carried out on behalf of the Independent Schools Council, shows that over three in five, or 62% of people, are in favour of the proposal.

People are over four times as likely to advocate this proposal, with just 14% of people against the idea.

The proposal has also received support from Ralph Lucas, editor in chief of The Good Schools Guide and Graham Brady MP, among others.

The proposal would see government contributing £5,500, the cost of an annual place at a state school, with the independent school topping up the remainder of the cost of the place, worth an average of £8,000 per year, to create up to 10,000 new places every year at independent schools across the country. The places would be free to families.

The places would be available first and foremost on the basis of low household income. This is not about 'creaming off' the brightest children. Places would be offered across age groups and would be non-selective, except in terms of ensuring that a child could cope with the respective independent school's expectations.

There would be no extra cost to government. This would be equivalent to filling ten new state schools, without the additional costs to government of building them.

The proposal was announced last December as part of the independent schools sector response to the government's Green Paper, Schools that Work for Everyone.

It comes in addition to the over £350 million a year that independent schools already offer in free and substantially reduced cost places to children from families on lower incomes. This cost to independent schools is far more than the estimated £150 million benefit that charitable status brings. Independent schools already save the tax payer £3 billion a year from students not being in state education and contribute £9.5 billion to the economy.

The poll was carried out by Populus between 13 -15 January 2017 as part of an Omnibus Survey in which 2,053 adults were polled. Further analysis was carried out by Research Stories.

Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said:

"These proposals would help create many more much needed good school places, at no extra cost to the state. It is no surprise that the majority of people are in favour of this scheme.

"Independent schools stand ready and willing to contribute as part of the national education system and to expand real social mobility in this country."

Ralph Lucas, editor in chief of The Good Schools Guide, is keen to add his support to the ISC’s proposals.

“The proposed scheme, which could place up to ten thousand disadvantaged children a year at reputable independent schools – with no extra cost to the state - deserves serious consideration. "We would like to see the places awarded to those children most in need of the opportunities found in the smaller classes, longer days and higher teacher numbers at independent schools. There is no denying the current shortage of state school places and this can go some way to addressing that.”

Graham Brady, MP, said:

“Opening access to great schools is one of the surest ways of extending opportunities to young people. Government should focus on ensuring that the choice of top quality state schools is as wide as it can possibly be, but it must also be right to open up places at the best independent schools to children whose parents can’t afford to pay the fees.

"This approach could help to kick start a new age of opportunity by giving more young people the chance to make the most of their talents. I hope that the government will look carefully at how this can be made to work.”

Irfan Latif, Head Master, Sexey's state boarding and day school, said:

“I have personally seen the transformative effect an outstanding education can have and that opportunity should be available to every child. Unfortunately there are currently not enough good state school places available in our country and the scheme proposed by independent schools would offer day opportunities to even more children.

"I hope that the government will consider it alongside other ways to increase the capacity (and funding) of our excellent educational system.”