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Sir James Dyson gives £19m to his former private school: a bit like opening a Food Bank outside Buckingham Palace

PUBLISHED: 15:27 25 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:47 25 June 2019

Cromer-born inventor Sir James Dyson. Picture: David Parry/PA Wire

Cromer-born inventor Sir James Dyson. Picture: David Parry/PA Wire

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It's sad that an act of generosity holds up a mirror to the huge gap between private and state schools but Sir James Dyson's gift to Gresham's school does make me think how an education centre to encourage children into engineering could have benefited the many, rather than the few.

I don't like to knock generosity, heaven knows it's in short enough supply these days, but Sir James Dyson's generous gift to a Norfolk independent school must feel like a bit of a kick in the teeth to the county's state schools struggling to cope after yet more funding cuts.

Sir James, who was one of the loudest business supporters of Brexit at the 2016 referendum but who in January announced he'd be moving Dyson's headquarters (and therefore tax base) to Singapore meaning the company is no longer a British registered company, has given his old school, Gresham's in Holt, £18.75m to fund a new education centre.

Mr Dyson is, of course, at complete liberty to spend his vast fortune however he likes, and he's right, it's important to inspire children at "the earliest possible stage" to be interested in science and engineering and that state-of-the-art spaces will "…foster, inspire and educate more brilliant young minds".

Or to be precise: brilliant young minds at a school where senior school pupils are charged £12,010 a term (from September 2019), where the average class size is 14 and where specialist science teachers prepare younger students for a high school curriculum by teaching them biology, chemistry and physics before they're even 11. But still.

To be fair, Greshams does offer financial assistance with fees to those who cannot afford more than £36,000 a year for each child, and Sir James attended the school because his father was a teacher there and after Mr Dyson senior died, it gave him a bursary to continue his education in Holt, so I do understand the connection.

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But oh - just think what that cash could have done for the kids that aren't lucky enough to have the benefit of an education which can buy them a lifetime of privilege and influence, just think how many lives might have been changed had that £18.75m been given to the county of Norfolk for pupils from all schools to access rather than to less than 500 pupils a year.

Our state schools are in crisis - there are staffing issues, basic supply issues, increasing mental health issues for both pupils and staff, the associated issues that arise as teachers are called on to help prop up other social care and support services and the knock-on effect of austerity measures which have seen some teachers reaching into their own pockets to help students,

A primary school in Great Yarmouth had to set up a food bank, a clothes bank and a free breakfast club for hungry children whose parents are struggling to feed their families - you can't foster, inspire and educate when the kids you teach haven't eaten a proper meal for days - and parents in Norfolk are being forced to fight for the vital services needed for their children with special educational needs within a system pared to the bone by vicious cuts.

The amount spent on education by the Government is much higher than it was 20 years ago, but in that time there's been a population boom and a squeeze on public finances: spending per pupil is now lower than it was in 2010 in today's prices.

Philip Hammond's announcement of a one-off payment for schools for £400m for "little extras" in October's budget was met with hollow laughs from the state sector - he set aside more money for repairing potholes in the same speech which, the last time I looked, weren't the key to the future prosperity of the UK.

Around six per cent of the UK's school population attend private schools yet one pound in every six of all school expenditure in England is for the benefit of independent school pupils.

So bravo to billionaire James Dyson for giving a huge grant to an independent school - I'm genuinely sure it will open doors that are already on the latch a little bit wider - meanwhile, it's another example of the yawning gap between the private and the state sector. Which to be fair to Mr Dyson, would take far more than £19m to bridge.

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