Pay up! Pay up! And play the game!

Class war is never far away in British education. It's sad but true that most of the best schools are fee-paying ones, which help their pupils win the excellent exam grades that lead on to a state-subsidised place at top universities.

The government wants to change that: it bullies top universities to take more state-school pupils, who are more likely to be from poor backgrounds. This week it issued tough new benchmarks for the numbers of state-school pupils that universities 'ought' to take. The result is pressure to admit as many state-school pupils as possible.

Distorting the System like this increases the chance that people will try to cheat it. Canny middle-class parents are now wondering if it's worth buying the best education they can afford for their children, for fear that they will be stigmatised when it comes to university entrance.

The game is to get the maximum quality of education for the minimum outlay, while ensuring that your child is not fingered as a class enemy when it comes to university entrance. How you manage this depends on money, religious belief and mobility.

If you have lots of cash, a bright child and don't want too much hassle, the best Option is to send your offspring to an independent school from the start. It will be costly, but when your child is 16, you move him to the State sector for two years. The government's bean counters1 will treat him as a state-school product. Applications to universities such as Cambridge, however, will list all his schools, showing what a well-trained chap he is. That should maximise his chances.

To play safe, you can also move house to somewhere grotty2. Universities are paid extra for taking students from poor districts. You can always move back to a more salubrious3 area as soon as your child's application has been accepted.

If that's too expensive or disruptive, there are plenty of other options. The simplest is to move to the catchment area for a good State primary school. You can do the same thing later on, to get into a good (usually meaning solidly middle-class) State comprehensive. In London, house prices may be up to 20% higher in the right catchment area - but you can regard that as an investment: sell, the house once your child is safely enrolled, and you'll be unlikely to lose money on the deal. Or you can rent.

Many of the best State schools are church-run. Your chances of getting in are greatly strengthened if you can have a letter from your priest, saying that you attend Sunday worship regularly. Luckily for parents with wobbly faith (or a cynical lack of it) such schools are no longer allowed to interview.

The third option is to try for a place at a selective State school. This may mean moving to Kent or Buckinghamshire, two solidly Conservative counties that have preserved the 11 + exam, which selects children for high-performing schools. Your child will have her best shot at this exam at a private primary school. This needn't cost much: Merton Court, for example, a Kent school with stellar4 11 + results, charges only £6,300 a year. Given what you save on school fees later, that's a bargain.

Another option is private tuition, used by one in four parents according to a recent survey. It can be expensive: £30 a session, say five times a week. But it has a big advantage: invisibility. Your child can arrive at university expertly tutored, but with impeccably5 plebeian6 credentials.

The government is constantly trying to change the rules to prevent such game-playing. One threat is to penalise university applicants on their parents' educational background as well as their own. Getting round that will be tricky: "Sophie, 17, seeks kind, preferably working-class, foster parents to see her through university admission and help her shed the disadvantages of her middle-class origins. No graduates need apply."
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Source: http://www.economist.com/world/britain/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_PNGPDNQ
Oct. 07, 2004
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1. bean counters - Erbsenzähler
2. grotty - schäbig
3. salubrious - vornehm, gesund
4. stellar - brilliant, ausgezeichnet
5. impeccable - makellos
6. plebeian - gewöhnlich, pöbelhaft

1. How will the government try to influence university entrance procedures and why are middle-class parents concerned?
2. Catchment areas can decide on British children's educational prospects. Why is this the case?
3. According to the text, how can middle-parents avoid the future restrictive entrance procedures to private and university education?
4. Find evidence that shows what attitude the writer of this article has in respect of the government's plans.

Choose o n e of the following topics. Write about 150 to 200 words.
1. What are the advantages of a private education in contrast to an education at a state school?
2. Do you think that money can buy you a better education?

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