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P = Presenter W = Patricia Wilby P Hello, and welcome to today's Worldly Wise, the programme that investigates current issues and tells you, the consumer, all about them. Today our attention turns to independent schools, the alternative system for those that can afford it. Most people believe that independent schools offer their pupils advantages that state schools don't. Some think this is unfair. Others will go to the edge of ruin to get the best education for their children. What are the independent schools like these days? Are they still as they were depicted in so many books and films? We sent Patricia Wilby to investigate.W In 1980 Eton abolished fagging that is younger boys acting as servants to older, more senior ones after the Head had at last persuaded two-thirds of his housemasters that this was an outdated institution. Winchester, for the first time in its history, sent more boys to provincial universities than it sent to Oxbridge. Bradford Grammar School decided that boys of thirteen and fourteen should be compelled to study science. And the Head Master of Oundle was able to assert that, although the practice had not been formally abolished, boys had not been beaten for many years. Public schools are not what they were. For a start, you're not supposed to call them public schools any more. They prefer the term independent school, suggesting initiative and enterprise instead of snobbery and prejudice. Over the past fifteen years, they have set out to bury the image of institutions that were socially divisive, obsessed with the classics, disdainful of industry because it meant money was earned, not inherited, and where success on the sports field was more important than success in the exam room. The modern public school will point out that engineering is the largest single destination for its leavers. It will show you computer terminals, science laboratories, and craft workshops. It will introduce you, if at all possible, to pupils whose backgrounds are far from aristocratic. Yet what is remarkable about this revolution is not so much that it has happened, but that it has happened so recently. And if much has changed, what critics regard as the most important things have not. The majority of the nation's Cabinet Ministers, top civil servants, ambassadors, High Court judges, military leaders, bishops, and bank directors went to public schools. They still account for about half the entrants to Oxford and Cambridge. Although most Western countries have independent school sectors, the British public school system is unique in the extent to which it is set apart from the rest of the nation. This isolation is possible because, by comparison, the private sector in Britain is remarkably small. Around five percent of the nation's schoolchildren go private, while in the United States the figure is ten per cent, and in France thirty per cent. But the most significant change of all is the importance that is now attached to academic achievement. In the top schools, the focus is firmly on A levels. GCSEs are regarded as a distraction, and pupils might take one or two when they are fifteen. It is academic success that is going to keep top people where they think they belong at the top. P And that was a special report by Patricia Wilby. Next week well be looking at the state of state education. Until then, good-bye.