Jonathan Liew, The Press and Journal 30 January 2009
Parents from poor backgrounds should be given a credit of up to £10,000 to allow them to send their children to independent schools, a think-tank suggests.
A report today by Reform Scotland concludes that the most disadvantaged children are being failed by the education system and are “falling through the gaps”.
It calls for parents to be given greater choice over which school they send their children to and for schools to be given greater autonomy.
The report, Parent Power, proposes that parents be given a credit equal to the average cost of educating a child in their local authority area.
According to the latest available figures, this would be between £3,500 and £8,000 for primary pupils and between £5,000 and £10,000 for secondary pupils.
The credit could be used at any school costing the same as or less than its value.
However, parents would not be able to “top-up” the credit to pay for a more expensive school.
For the first two years the scheme would run exclusively for parents of children who qualify for free school meals, before being extended to all parents.
The report claims that this would enable new state funded, independent schools to be established to meet demand and compete with other local schools for pupils.
These schools would not be allowed to select pupils on the basis of ability.
Geoff Mawdsley, one of the report’s authors, said: “This would give parents a greater say in choosing the school they believe will help their child fulfil his or her potential, whether it is a state school in the same area, a state school on the other side of town or an independently-run state-funded school.”
The report said state schools in Scotland varied widely in ethos and performance, depriving poorer children in low-performing schools of choice and leading to inequalities in the system.
It recommended that local authorities should be given responsibility for pay and conditions and be able to pass these powers on to schools if they wished.
Mr Mawdsley said: “This is all about creating an education system that extends opportunity and promotes social mobility.
“But what we are putting forward is a long-term strategy that will benefit countless numbers of children who, unless we make radical changes, will be failed by an education system that does not meet their needs.”