Eton's not for party politics, says head

THE headmaster of prestigious Eton College has spoken of his dismay that his school is expected to be used as a political football in this year's general election.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has already fired the opening shots of a class- oriented campaign by highlighting the privileged backgrounds of the Tory leader David Cameron, an Eton old boy, and other senior Conservatives. He mocked opposition tax policies for having been "dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton".

And Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, has also protested that too many of Cameron's close allies are "public schoolboy millionaires".

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Tony Little, who has been head of the 9,617-a-term school for seven years has criticised politicians who have used its name to score points.

He said "one might have hoped" such tactics had been left behind in the last century, but added that he and the school tried to rise above them. He insisted Eton worked hard to provide places for boys from a variety of backgrounds.

"Depending on where you stand, (Eton] can mean a whole variety of different things. What we focus on is simply doing the best in making the school as good as it can be for as many people as we can," he said.

He insisted that the political squalls affecting the school would play themselves out.

He said caricatures of Eton, the country's largest boarding school, with 1,300 places, failed to take account of its history of offering scholarships to less well-off children since its foundation in 1440.

Twenty per cent of boys at the school receive financial help averaging 60 per cent of their fees, he said.