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Saturday, September 25, 1999 Published at 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK


Blair urged to tackle school funding 'problem'

More state schools are reported to be requesting parental payments

Prime Minister Tony Blair is being urged to face up to the problems of former grant-maintained schools after it was claimed many are facing the prospect of asking parents for cash contributions.

After the row caused by the London Oratory school, which is attended by Mr Blair's sons, asking all parents for a £30-a-month donation, it was reported that hundreds of others were facing the choice between cuts and charging parents.

Shadow education secretary Theresa May said: "I have had a lot of letters from grant-maintained schools who are in a similar position to the London Oratory.

"Many are finding they are suffering budgets cuts and do not know what to do.

[ image: MP Bridget Prentice: All schools must be treated equally]
MP Bridget Prentice: All schools must be treated equally
"Some are finding they have to ask parents to fund not just the odd computer but to put their hands in their pockets for core funds, for things which affect the day to day running of the school.

"Mr Blair has got to accept there is a problem with grant-maintained schools and accept that action needs to be taken."

Labour, however, launched a fightback, with Lewisham East MP Bridget Prentice, who is a former teacher at London Oratory, accusing grant-maintained schools of "scaremongering" by asking parents for extra money.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that even when she was a teacher at the Roman Catholic London Oratory School parents were asked for voluntary contributions.

"It is not unusual and it has been going on for a very long time," she said.

"What the grant maintained schools should recognise and admit is that they have been given protection this year and have been given protection again next year."

"It is important that all schools are treated equally, that is the whole point of the new funding formula.

"I think there is a bit of scaremongering going on," Ms Prentice added.

Paying for mistakes

Under the Tories, grant-maintained schools received extra cash after opting out of local education authority control.

That financial advantage has now gone, and while the former grant-maintained schools received cash protection this year, many have lost thousands because that transitional help ignored inflation.

The Government has refused to comment on the London Oratory and the request received by Mr and Mrs Blair.

Education minister Estelle Morris said earlier: "Let's be clear that what they are asking for, as many schools often do, is a voluntary contribution from parents. That's a matter for the head and the governing body."

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