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Friday, September 24, 1999 Published at 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK


Opt-out schools claim cash crisis

Tony Blair has been asked to contribute to school funds

The abolition of grant-maintained status has seen former "opted-out" schools facing a cut in funding.

The problems have been highlighted by the request for money from parents at the London Oratory School, a former grant-maintained school which is attended by the children of the prime minister.

The headteacher says that the change in status will mean a shortfall of £250,000, which he hopes will be tackled by donations from parents, who have been asked to contribute £30 per month per pupil.

"It will be impossible for us to maintain the current pupil-teacher ratio, continue to recruit and retain teachers of the highest calibre ... and generally to maintain high standards unless we raise funds to meet the shortfall in income from public funds," says the headteacher John McIntosh in a letter to parents.

Other former grant-maintained schools have claimed financial difficulties as a result of the transition - with Bishop Douglass RC High School in Finchley, North London, saying it is £200,000 a year worse off and the Wroxham School in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire saying it is £30,000 a year worse off.

But the government says that it has already moved to reduce the financial problems facing former grant-maintained schools, with the promise of a 2.5% increase in funding per pupil.

Change in status

Under the former Conservative government, all schools could apply for grant-maintained status, which meant leaving local authority control and receiving more generous funding directly from the government.

Although remaining state schools, which did not charge fees, the grant-maintained schools had greater independence over admissions policies and were seen as offering a more traditional style of education.

But under the present government's Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998, grant-maintained status was abolished and schools could either opt back into local authority control or adopt 'foundation' status, which gave them a limited degree of independence.

Financial incentives removed

In either case, the former grant-maintained schools have faced a reduction in income - as the financial incentives that accompanied opting out are taken away.

In recognition of the cut in income during the change over in status, the Education Secretary David Blunkett promised financial support in July 1998, which he said would prevent "unmanageable" changes in income.

The education secretary promised a 2.5% increase in per pupil funding from government and said that he expected local authorities to provided another 5%.

"We cash-protected former grant-maintained schools this year to avoid unmanageable changes to their budgets and said we would consider what, if any, protection we would introduce for next year," said Mr Blunkett.

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