Call for ‘needs-blind, merit-alone’ admissions to independent schools


A charity says its argument for a programme of “needs-blind admissions” for low-income students to leading independent schools has been bolstered by new research into the effects of a similar scheme in the 1980s and 90s.

The Assisted Places scheme provided a means-tested education at independent schools for young people from less advantaged homes until 1997.

The latest in a series of research projects tracking the beneficiaries of the scheme this week revealed the impact it has had.

It shows that as well as getting good qualifications and jobs, they felt their schools helped them to develop personal attributes, such as self-discipline and self-reliance, as well as enduring social networks.

Many of the Assisted Place holders are now in their 40s and virtually all have continued to gain promotion in well-paid professional and managerial occupations. More than 40 per cent of the 77 involved in the research are earning more than £90,000 a year.

The Sutton Trust says the research, which has been carried out by the Wales Institute for Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods, reinforces its proposal for an “Open Access” scheme that would provide “needs blind admissions to leading independent day schools”.

The charity says that Open Access would benefit “significantly more” students than Assisted Places. It adds: “Crucially, 100 per cent of places at each school would be available based on merit alone instead of the 10 to 20 per cent under Assisted Places. Open Access would have a sliding scale of fees based on family income.”

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “This new research with the Assisted Places group confirms the extent to which able children from less advantaged homes gain from an independent school education. It shows the importance of ensuring that access to the best independent day schools is not restricted to those who can afford to pay full fees.

“However, the Assisted Places scheme was too limited in its reach. Because of the small number of assisted places in each school, it resulted in many students feeling socially out of place. Instead, there is a much better model in the Open Access scheme, where all places are based on merit alone.”

The Sutton Trust and the Girls’ Day School Trust trialled this approach at the Belvedere School in Liverpool from 2000 to 2007, when 30 per cent of pupils were on free places, 40 per cent paid partial fees and the rest paid full fees. The Sutton Trust says that 90 independent day schools support its proposals. 

Sir Peter added: “Under Open Access, all the places at participating independent day schools would be available on merit alone, with parents paying a sliding scale of fees according to means.

“This would make a major contribution to social mobility by opening up independent day schools to all young people enabling them not only to thrive academically but also to gain the social skills and access to the networks that are crucial to success.”

For more on the Sutton Trust’s proposals, visit



Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Claim Free Subscription