Many state schools ‘more exclusive’ than those in private sector, says top headmaster

The Telegraph, 31/12/14, many state schools are now “more exclusive” than rivals in the private sector because middle-class parents pay a premium to move into catchment areas, according to a leading headmaster.

He suggested large numbers of families shell out as much to get their children into top state schools as those who choose a private education.

Mr Jones, principal of fee-paying St Gabriel's School in Newbury, also criticised "stereotypical, out-of-date" language used by many to describe private education, insisting large numbers of parents were not rich and made huge sacrifices to enrol their children.

The comments follow the publication of figures earlier this year that showed as many as 12 pupils were now competing for places at the most sought-after state schools in England.

Demand for places is often most fierce at an elite band of grammar schools and state-funded academies.

This year, some 1,863 pupils sat the entrance exam to get into Tiffin School, Kingston upon Thames, for just 160 places – almost 12-to-one. Harris City Academy Crystal Palace, in south London, was among most sought-after comprehensives, with 2,016 applications for 180 places – a ratio of just over 11-to-one.

Mr Jones said some state schools "can end up being more exclusive than many independent schools".

"Some parents will actually prioritise their household income in order to make significant sacrifices to send their children to independent school,” he said. “Other parents will choose to look at geographical locations of where to buy and will be able to afford incredibly expensive housing in what they consider to be a far better school area.

"They supplement this with tutors and extra lessons in all sorts of other activities."

He added: "I would say 80 per cent of the social apartheid one sees in schools at the moment is actually because of geography, and some parents can access incredible education and incredibly successful schools because they can afford incredibly expensive housing in expensive areas of the country."

He said the independent sector was making fierce efforts to improve access, with the 200 GSA schools currently spending more than £63 million on bursaries to give pupils subsidised places.

Over half of those that receive means-tested financial help have more than half of their fees paid for them, he said.

The comments come despite the publication of plans by Labour to strip independent schools of up to £147m a year in business rate relief, with claims the taxpayer was being forced to subsidise “the education of a privileged few”.

Mr Jones said it was time to banish "stereotypical, out-of-date" references to the independent sector.

"It's going back to the old 1970s class war, it's so outdated, the reference to the independent sector as that type of elite and privilege,” he said.

He added: "My school, like many, many other GSA schools, are real world schools where mum and dad are working very hard to prioritise their income to benefit their children."

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