UK PM’s old school launches drive to narrow rich-poor gap

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Britain’s Eton College has announced a £100 million ($125 million, 113-million-euro) drive to improve educational opportunity after growing evidence the coronavirus outbreak was hitting rich and poor differently.

Headmaster Simon Henderson said there was “no doubt” the global pandemic was widening existing inequality, and public and private bodies with means needed to help tackle it.

Britain’s Office for National Statistics on Friday said people in more deprived areas of England were twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as in more affluent locations.

The Sutton Trust, which promotes social mobility through education, has said private school pupils were twice as likely to take part in online lessons every day during the lockdown as their state school counterparts.

Eton, near Windsor, west of London, has become a byword for elitism and charges more than £42,000 in fees per year. Old boys include Prime minister Boris Johnson, and princes William and Harry.

But in a video message this week, Henderson said the COVID-19 crisis, which has led to more than 27,000 deaths in Britain, would be a “trigger for profound change” similar to that after the last two world wars.

“A national crisis shines an unforgiving light on the unfairness of its impact on different people,” he noted, particularly low-paid key workers.

“It’s much, much harder if you’re poor,” he said.

Eton’s contribution to redressing the balance, he said, would be to spend “at least £100 million” on narrowing the gap.

The money, half of which would come from fund-raising, would go towards attracting at least 140 pupils from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds on full scholarships by 2025.

It will also include developing and extending its online education platform to the state sector, invest in new courses and make them permanently available for free online.

The school, which is run as a charity, would seek new partners in the state sector, particularly in inner-city areas, he added.

Henderson described the programme as “a fundamental change of gear by Eton”, which was founded by king Henry VI in 1440, and the “right thing” to do.

“It is a right example to set our boys. It is right ambition to set our staff. It is a right development of our charitable goals and it is a right contribution to our national need,” he added. (AFP)

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