Private schools can help social mobility | Letters

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I was interested to read Tim Lott’s article, delightfully direct in its title (Why I want to see all private schools abolished, 21 April). Although I am actually head of one of those vilified institutions, the piece contained several points with which I would concur, not least an implicit belief in meritocracy as the way forward. However, the part of his argument with which I take most issue is the suggestion that private schools hinder social mobility.

My grandfather was homeless as a teenager but his daughter went on to have three children of her own who went to private school. The eldest went through a grant-maintained scheme and became the first graduate in our family. The youngest (yours truly) was supported by said mother working in a school kitchen and going without holidays to pay fees. That I, only two generations from real poverty, went to Oxford University, and am now running one of the schools Tim Lott would scrap, indicates that social mobility has been happening through private education for some time.

My school has an established bursary scheme to support exactly this. It’s not yet as large as we would like but 16% of pupils are supported by it; that number will go up next year. Perhaps those places would not be needed if the state could provide the same opportunities. But let’s be pragmatic; at the moment, it can’t afford to do so. Abolishing my school would put a massive burden on an already stretched service and stop a long-term project that provides real social mobility for young people judged solely on their merit. I would suggest that taking a fresh look at private education would show clearly that Tim Lott’s purposes would not be served by its abolition.
Sally-Anne Huang
Headmistress, James Allen’s Girls’ School, Dulwich, London

• It is understandable that some view private schools as part of the problem of social inequality. However, it is possible to view them as part of the solution. Almost all private schools are engaged in supportive partnership work with state schools and most offer significant help with fees to widen access and assist with social mobility. The independent education sector has recently pledged to offer a further 10,000 funded places.

Few would suggest that the solution to the problems of the NHS lies in the abolition of private healthcare. Similarly, the abolition of private schools would be a negative and diminishing move. Much better to expect more of private schools in the collective challenge to improve the education and life chances of all children.
Leo Winkley
Headmaster, St Peter’s School, York

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