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Anger at extra cash for former opt-outs

Transitional funds given to schools on the abolition of grant-maintained status are still being paid, five years on. Helen Ward and Michael Shaw report

FIVE years after a Labour government abolished grant-maintained status more than 200 GM schools are still receiving pound;12 million a year in additional funding.

The schools, which include the London Oratory, attended by the Prime Minister's son Nicky, are getting the cash at the expense of their neighbours. The money is paid by local authorities and ministers have no plans to cut the subsidies which will continue until at least April 2004.

The highest amount goes to Kingsbury high in Brent, north London, which will receive an extra pound;688,532 during this financial year, including money from the Learning and Skills Council.

Dunraven school in Lambeth , south London, will receive pound;385,796 and the Oratory in Fulham, will get pound;91,391. In total, 36 former GM schools will get more than pound;100,000 each.

In all 1,199 schools opted out of council control to become grant-maintained, and received extra cash to pay for services which had previously been provided by the education authority.

When the system was abolished in 1997 transitional funding was introduced to help schools adjust while their financial arrangements were phased out. But this has continued for longer than expected.

Wandsworth council, south London, estimates that the continued payments will leave more than 50 of its schools up to pound;400,000 worse off next year. Brian Hazell, secretary of the Lambeth branch of the National Association of Head Teachers and head of Clapham Manor primary school, said he heard regular complaints from heads about the inequality.

"It's appalling," he said. "You have one secondary school down the road from another which is receiving half a million pounds more - of course it's going to make a difference."

His concerns were shared by Margaret Peacock, head of Chestnut Grove secondary school in Wandsworth. "It's unfair that the community schools should continue to be penalised," she said.

"When the GM schools were operating, we were not able to reduce class sizes in the same way they could, and couldn't afford the same equipment. The difference between the schools now is not as extreme as it was, but we don't see why they should continue to have an advantage."

Martin Rogers, co-ordinator of the Education Network, said: "I cannot believe this situation still exists. The Government is giving priority to certain schools at the expense of others.

"We are looking for this situation to be brought to an end."

Graham Lane, education chairman of the Local Government Association, said:

"This is unfair funding which is not based on need or logic."

Richard Townsend, principal of Dunraven, said the issue was not that the former GM schools were receiving too much money, but that other schools were not receiving enough. He said: "I know a number of schools feel very strongly about it, but our view is that schools overall are underfunded."

Last year, 35 per cent of former GM schools received transitional funding. In the current year that has dropped to 18 per cent. The government grant which once helped councils fund the payments was stopped in April, leaving authorities to meet the full cost.

HISTORY OF DEFUNCT STATUS

1988 Conservatives introduce grant-maintained status. GM schools were given revenue from the local authority (the part held back for central services).

1995: The Labour party propose an end to GM status. Schools to become community, voluntary-aided or foundation. The latter, like GM, remained employers of staff and controlled admissions.

1998: Labour government tells 1,199 grant-maintained schools to decide on their new status.

199900: Local education authorities resume responsibility for GM schools. Government pays pound;36m in transitional funds.

20001: pound;32m in transitional funding, pound;16m met by government grant.

20012: Grant towards transitional funding abolished.

20023: Authorities paid pound;12m in transitional funding to 220 schools.

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