Private schools gain momentum

The drift towards private schools in Britain’s education system is quickening, with new research showing more parents would prefer to get their children out of the comprehensive system.

Research by pollsters Ipsos Mori for the Independent Schools Council found 57 per cent of parents revealing they would prefer their children to attend private school if they could afford it.

This is up from 48 per cent in 2004, suggesting growing disillusionment in state schools.

“Parents see the independent sector as offering stability in an environment where educational changes seem to be announced pretty much every week,” ISC head of research Pru Jones commented.

Only seven per cent of children attend private schools but their impact on higher education remains of concern to educationalists.

Figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency today show a series of negative trends in improving access to university among those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Higher socio-economic groups narrowly increased their hold on total full-time young undergraduate numbers, while drop-out rates among those from low-participation neighbourhoods remained above those from other areas.

Universities and College Union (UCU) general secretary Sally Hunt said the government’s spending on widening social class participation in higher education – nearly £3 billion over the past ten years – had failed to lead to progress.

“The bottom line is that the punitive cost of higher education is putting the very students who the government wishes to attract off applying,” Ms Hunt said.

“Of equal concern is the higher drop out rates at the institutions that are doing the most to try and attract students from the under-represented groups. Their work needs to be encouraged, not criticised.”

Higher education minister Bill Rammell pointed out the proportion of young entrants from low socioeconomic groups was at its highest ever level.

He said the key to widening participation was strengthening links between schools and universities and that the government’s Aimhigher scheme was addressing this need.

“We must maintain our efforts,” Mr Rammell continued.

“It is an economic as well as a social imperative that everyone who has the ability and can benefit from higher education has the opportunity to do so.”