Time to act
The Charities Act and public benefit, the debates for and against independent schools (mostly the latter) among political parties – and now the recession. Andrew Maiden says it is time for the sector to fight back
Independent schools represent one of the most underappreciated sectors in the UK. We all know its successes (if you don’t, then: it produces our top scientists, linguists, gold-medal winning athletes, political leaders, oh – and a first-rate education, among many other benefits).
Arguments against the sector are often lazy and, frankly, based on envy. Closing it down wouldn’t raise standards for all, it may just pull everyone down to the same level. Not that state education is bad, far from it in many cases, but there are lessons the maintained sector can learn from the independents. The winners at the Independent School Awards 2010 in November will be a case in point.
If you ask people from other countries about what they consider to be the most current impressive achievement of the UK and the answer will be “independent education”.
For too long, the sector has been coshed by the Government, the Charity Commission and the political parties. The sector is strong still, but faces many challenges, not least in combating the effects of the recession. It is time, then, for strong leadership to overcome political and social hurdles. Primarily, what is needed is new thinking.
In June this year, David Hanson, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, offered a suggestion for alternative school funding: “One of the possible unintended consequences of the introduction of ‘free schools’ is that existing independent schools might wish to reinvent themselves as ‘free schools’ and the Treasury would be presented with the bill. “One could establish all sorts of mechanisms to prevent this, but I suggest an alternative strategy, which approaches the funding of education from an entirely different perspective.
“I suggest that, as part of their Tax Code, all parents have an identified Personal Educational Grant (PEG). This is tapered in inverse proportion to salary. The poorest have a PEG of say £6,000, tapering to £1,000. All parents are then required to pay, via Inland Revenue, directly for their child’s schooling. This could be a paper transaction where parents present their PEG Certificate (PEGC) to the school of their choice. The PEGC would be redeemable in any chosen local authority or private, independent or voluntary (PIV) school.
“This proposal not only extends provision and draws on public sector expertise, but importantly would for the first time provide a truly level playing-field and therefore dramatically increase social mobility: all parents would be able to choose any type of school for their child. As part of this arrangement, the Government should allow all schools to extend existing arrangements where they can already request additional financial support from parents. PIV schools would be allowed to require ‘top up’ fees.” In one fell swoop, this would make parents think about the cost of education and other opportunities that might provide better value.
Andrew Maiden is editor of Funding for Independent Schools.
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