PRIVATE schools have offered to create 10,000 free places for poorer students — but only if the taxpayer stumps up the cash to help fund them.
The cynical move comes after Prime Minister Theresa May warned in a government Green Paper that private schools would have to pull their weight in society if they want to keep their generous tax breaks.
Critics suggest the proposal by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) smacks of back-handed altruism from institutions who have enjoyed a free ride for generations through their dubious charitable status which grants them lower taxes.
The proposal suggests that the government pays no more than the cost of a state school place per pupil — thought to be around £5,500 a year — with the private sector paying the rest.
Some children would be tested for ability, the ISC said, but it insisted that children from low-income families would be targeted for places and not top academy or gram
mar school pupils.
ISC chairman Barnaby Lenon claimed that the plan would “be helping to expand real social mobility in this country.”
But outgoing Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said the ISC proposal does not go far enough.
“I think they can do better than that and if I was government I would be asking them to do more as a quid pro quo for their tax privileges,” he said.
The charitable status granted to private schools spares them at least £150 million a year — a privilege which has long been criticised as most pupils are from wealthy families.
Labour former education secretary Baroness Estelle Morris, an ex-teacher, said: “This is about a request to use state money, taxpayers’ money, to extract the brightest children out of our comprehensive schools and skim them off and put them into public schools and that’s not good for the education system.”
National Union of Teachers head of education Rosamund McNeil echoed these views, saying that the plans would remove the highest performing pupils from state education.
She said: “A system in which public funds are used to support the admittance of a small proportion of pupils from low income backgrounds into private schools is a dangerous step towards a voucher system for education.