Poor isolated in private school
Pupils offered free or subsidised places at independent schools can often feel isolated, a report suggests.
Research into the assisted places scheme (APS), which operated in the 1980s, found some pupils felt estranged or even alienated from their schools.
The Sutton Trust education charity said this held lessons for how private schools today should devise schemes to accommodate poorer children.
It found they could not go on school trips, for example, due to the expense.
The APS was brought in by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in 1979 in an attempt to provide a ladder of opportunity for academically able children from poorer backgrounds.
It was abolished 18 years later as Tony Blair's first education policy announcement.
A total of 25 former recipients of an assisted place in the 1980s were interviewed by the Institute of Education at the University of London for the research.
Virtually all said they could not participate in out-of-school activities, such as field trips, cultural visits or foreign exchanges, because their parents could not afford to pay for them.
For some this was a key factor in becoming estranged or alienated from the independent school they had attended.
Those interviewed also often spoke of not being able to participate in weekend and after-school activities.
Very long journeys to and from school were also a barrier to involvement.
Suggestions that private schooling provided useful social networks for adulthood were not backed up by the research - only four reported strong friendships with former schoolmates.
The Sutton Trust promotes social mobility through education. It has funded a large number of access projects in early years, school and university settings.
Independent schools increasingly are providing financial support for their pupils' families.
The recent Independent Schools Council census showed that about a third of pupils in member schools, 168,564, received assistance with fees, up 6.08% on 2008.
The Sutton Trust chairman, Sir Peter Lampl, said: "Although the assisted places scheme ended a decade ago, it has important lessons for contemporary efforts to open up independent schools and for the current debate over these schools' charitable status.
"This research shows that private schools need to look beyond the simple question of fees when opening their doors.
"Poorer students need other financial and pastoral support if they are to make the most of the opportunities the private sector can offer."
The director of the Institute of Education, Geoff Whitty, said: "There is no doubt that many recipients of assistance enjoyed great benefits, both at school and in later life.
"However, the most disadvantaged pupils found it difficult to fit in and were at higher risk of dropping out of education early.
"A proper assessment of the costs and benefits of the scheme also needs to consider its impact on local state schools, some of which lost their brightest pupils to the scheme."
Source: BBC News, 26th May 2009.
26th May 2009