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Give parents £10,000 school credit, says report – Daily Telegraph

Simon Johnson, The Daily Telegraph 30 January 2009

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Reform Scotland said they should be given a \’credit\’ equal to the average cost of educating a pupil in their local authority catchment area.
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\r\nAccording 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.
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\r\nThis could then be used to send their child to any school that costs the same or less than the credit, including independent establishments.
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\r\nHowever, parents and guardians would be barred from topping up the difference if an independent school charges fees that were higher.
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\r\nThe think tank argued that the "root-and-branch" reforms are required to the Scottish education system following research showing the current system is failing pupils from deprived areas.
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\r\nGeoff Mawdsley, the think tank\’s director, said: "This is all about creating an education system that extends opportunity and promotes social mobility. This is not something that can happen overnight.
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\r\n"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."
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\r\nA report published last month found Scotland\’s schoolchildren are falling badly behind those in many other countries in maths and science, with pupils in countries such as Lithuania and Slovenia "significantly" outperforming them.
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\r\nBut Mr Mawdsley said its findings had failed to spur a political debate about the education system and pointed to Sweden, Canada and the Netherlands, where parents have much more choice over which school their child attends.
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\r\nThe Reform Scotland report, Parent Power, said that council spending on schools increased 58 per cent between 1995-6, while central government grants have soared 765 per cent.
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\r\nBut it said that poorer pupils registered for free school meals have lower exam results, are more likely to leave school without entering training or work and have higher levels of truancy.
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\r\nFor the first two years the Reform Scotland scheme would run exclusively for these children, before being extended to all parents.
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\r\nMr Mawdsley admitted that not all children would be able to attend their first-choice school if a popular establishment was over-subscribed.
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\r\nBut the report claimed new state-funded, independent schools would be established to meet demand and compete with other local schools for pupils.
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\r\nThese would not be allowed to select pupils on the basis of ability, but could specialise in specific areas, such as vocational training or music.
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\r\nIt said that 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.
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\r\nIn a change likely to enrage trade unions, it recommended the end of national pay negotiations and local authorities be given responsibility for pay and conditions.
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\r\nSNP ministers want to limit class sizes to 18 in the early years of primary school, but the report pointed out this was not legally enforceable.
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\r\nIt highlighted a series of court cases in which parents have won the right to send their children to the school of their choice, even though the class size limit had already been reached.
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