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Friday, September 24, 1999 Published at 03:19 GMT 04:19 UK


Blair 'asked to pay school fees'

Nicky Blair (front left), Euan and Kathryn with their mother in 1997

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife have been asked to pay £45 a month towards their children's education at a state school following the abolition of its grant-maintained status.

The revelation, just days before Labour's annual conference, is an embarrassment for Mr Blair, who made education his top priority following the general election.

[ image: It is one of the best-equipped state schools in the country]
It is one of the best-equipped state schools in the country
The opposition has been quick to seize on the news, claiming Mr Blair was having to pay for the mistakes of his own education policy.

The voluntary "levy" is the Roman Catholic London Oratory School's response to the cut in income following the removal of its grant-maintained status by the Department for Education and Employment.

But the School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, has rejected claims of a funding crisis for former grant-maintained schools, saying that an increase of 2.5% in per pupil funding had already been agreed to support the schools.

The BBC's James Westhead: "The school blames its most famous parent"
The London Oratory School's headmaster John McIntosh and chairman of governors Father Ignatius Harrison wrote to parents this week, telling them the money was needed because of government funding changes.

They said the voluntary-aided school had been left with a £250,000 deficit following the changes.

The letter said: "All of the governors feel that the school is too special and its achievements too significant to be allowed to decline because of this financial situation in which, for reasons beyond our control, we find ourselves."

Parents are being asked to pay £30 a month for one child and £15 for a second child.

The Blairs' sons Euan, 15, and Nicky, 13, are among the 1,340 pupils at the school.

The government abolished grant-maintained (GM) status for 1,199 schools earlier this year.

[ image: Parent Richard Stoner says the charge is a
Parent Richard Stoner says the charge is a "small price to pay"
Under the old system, grant-maintained schools received their funding direct from the government.

Now it is channelled through local education authorities and the London Oratory says the switch-over has resulted in the shortfall.

The levy was criticised by Belina Yaxley of the National Council for Parent Teachers Associations, who said that such charges would make state education unaffordable for poorer families.

However a parent at the school, Richard Stoner, says that the charge is "a small price to pay" to prevent a reduction in staffing levels or cutting down on equipment.

'Private matter'

Downing Street refused to comment on the story, which has been carried prominently in both The Times and the Daily Mail.

[ image: Charges are unfair to the less well off, says Belinda Yaxley of the National Council for Parent Teacher Associations]
Charges are unfair to the less well off, says Belinda Yaxley of the National Council for Parent Teacher Associations
A spokesman said: "We have always said the education of the children is a private matter."

Last year, the Blairs complained to the Press Complaints Commission after several newspapers wrote about their children's schooling arrangements.

Shadow education secretary Theresa May said: "These staggering revelations show that the government is intent on attacking excellence in education.

"Tony Blair has exposed grammar schools to the threat of closure and has abolished the opt-out status for grant-maintained schools, meaning their budget is channelled through local authorities.

"This has left the London Oratory with such a shortfall that it is asking parents for hand-outs.

"The bitter irony is that Tony Blair may now be personally having to pay for his own mistakes."

The Blairs' choice of the Oratory as the school for their sons has been a point of public controversy ever since Euan Blair was first sent to the school, which uses selection to choose its admissions.

Labour policy had always been against selection-based schools.

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