Boarding benefits

There was a time after the Second World War, now largely forgotten, when local councils made it possible for children in difficult and deprived circumstances to go to boarding schools. The Government is now introducing a scheme, with funding of £500,000, to recreate what has been lost by getting councils to arrange boarding places for children in care who would benefit from them—which is not the case for all such children. Some commentators are suggesting that independent boarding schools are not particularly keen on the scheme—which is far from being the case, as Alistair Lexden stressed in a letter published in The Daily Telegraph on July 8.

SIR - It is misleading to suggest that independent schools will only provide boarding places for children in care because of “mounting pressure” on them (report, July 4). In fact, they have always sought to work with local authorities to enable pupils who would benefit from a boarding education to gain places. 

Ambitious plans were made after the Second World War following Churchill’s declaration that he wanted to see 60 to 70 per cent of places filled “on the recommendation of the counties and the great cities”. By 1952 Middlesex alone was sponsoring over 500 places for children “whose domestic situation indicated a need for boarding”. Many former local authority-sponsored boarders today attest to the benefits, including my Labour friend in the Lords, Andrew Adonis.

However, by the Seventies most local authorities had turned their back on this way of giving children in need an excellent start in life. They also ceased to work  with the state’s own first-rate boarding schools. In 2001 I set up a committee so that the Independent Schools Council and the Local Government Association could work out ways of renewing partnership. But it proved impossible to rekindle the interest of local councils. Boarding schools will play their full part in the welcome new government initiative to overcome resistance among local councils.     

Indeed, independent schools want to go much further. They have offered to make up to 10,000 places a year available at a cost no greater than the state pays in the maintained sector. There exists today immense potential for co-operation if the new prime minister is interested.

Lord Lexden (Con)
General Secretary, Independent Schools Council 1997-2004
London SW1