According to Tony Little, the headmaster of Eton, the upcoming government should reintroduce an assisted places scheme that would enable disadvantaged children to attend boarding schools. Additionally, Little suggests creating boarding academies for state pupils to address concerns about the "broken society" and improve the life chances of young people. Little stated that reputable boarding schools can be a solution as they offer a world-class education to those who need it the most. The scheme will have a cost implication at a difficult economic time. However, Little claims that it would be cost-effective and money well spent in social terms.
Little believes that there should be new modes of developing young people and affirms that "as a nation, we cannot afford not to find new ways to develop all our young people, from the determined and ambitious to the feckless and disengaged." The assisted places scheme, which was introduced in 1979 by Margaret Thatcher’s government, supported poor children to attend private schools. After 18 years, the scheme was abolished as one of the New Labour’s initial education policies.
Previous research showed that assisted place-holders had higher exam results and went on to earn more in adulthood than similar state school students. However, a report in the previous year revealed that the scheme was "far from an unqualified success," with pupils often feeling "estranged and alienated." As parents could not afford extras like school trips, and children could not participate in after-school activities, they struggled to fit in. Little affirms that the old scheme was flawed, and a new one should be sufficiently structured to accommodate those most in need.
Little suggests that the new scheme fosters boarding, which provides young people with structure and teaches self-discipline, among other benefits. He acknowledged that some people hold on to the view that boarding schools are for privileged children. However, he claims that times have changed. He further criticized parents who sought to obtain quick returns for their investment in a boarding school education and put heads under pressure, which amounted to harassment. He believed that school leaders distorted disciplinary processes for a quiet life and focused more on exam grades.
According to Little, although parents are customers, they are ‘buying into a distinctive philosophy of education.’ In essence, they are paying for the professional expertise of the boarding schools. He encourages school leaders to tell parents that ‘boarding schools are highly professional institutions,’ and they must not hold back from communicating this effectively. Little posits that full fee-paying parents are a more diverse collection than the traditional families of the ’70s, with a wider range of aspirations and perceptions of what a boarding school means. This diversity, he believes, fosters stimulating learning and presents challenges.