Suffolk/Ipswich: MP Ben Gummer backs radical initiative to open independent schools to all

ONE of Suffolk’s leading private schools is backing a radical initiative to open the sector to pupils from less-privileged backgrounds.

Ipswich School is one of 80 independent schools nationally to support the Sutton Trust’s drive to open them to the brightest children, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.

The education charity said the scheme would transform social mobility and cost the Government less than a state school place.

But the Department of Education declined to comment on the idea, saying its focus was on improving state schools.

The charity tested its open access scheme by financing a seven-year pilot at Belvedere School, Liverpool. The school took the brightest pupils, with free places for the third of pupils with a family income of less than �15,000.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the trust, said because parents were sharing the fees, the cost to the charity was less than the cost to Government of funding a state school place.

He said last week the Government was blowing hot and cold on the idea but that he was hoping to get commitments into 2015 election manifestos.

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“This is a great idea,” said Ipswich MP Ben Gummer. “Many independent schools, including Ipswich School, were set up as charitable foundations to educate children from families of limited means. It is important that they hold fast to that principle.

“Good luck to them – and I shall certainly support the proposal should it come before parliament.”

Nicholas Weaver, headmaster at Ipswich School, said: “There’s a lot of detail to be sorted out first of all, at the moment we’re on board with the concept.

“One of the concerns is it’s difficult to lose our most cherished asset - that we’re independent to set our own agenda.

“There’s a lot of political will behind social mobility. Whether there’s political will behind independent schools and the Sutton Trust initiative I don’t know.”

Both Woodbridge School and Colchester High School were not on the original list of 80 independents to support the scheme.

Woodbridge has since expressed an interest in hearing more.

But David Young, principal at Colchester High, said: “This appears to be an extension of the scholarship programme for able pupils that we already offer.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education said: “Our priority is to transform the state education system so that all children are able to access a good quality education, regardless of their background.”

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