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Assisted places rumpus

Is it "unjustifiable" and "immoral", or are such accusations "malicious scaremongering"? The abuse was flying last week not just on the Scott report but also about its assisted places scheme at independent schools.

The spat between the Forum on Scottish Education, which levelled the charges of immorality and unjustifiability, and Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, must strengthen the Government's suspicion that the forum is not so much an independent voice for education, but more of a mouthpiece for sectoral interests.

Mr Robertson issued a statement to rebut "any suggestion that expansion of the assisted places scheme in Scotland is at the expense of local authority budgets is totally without foundation and is malicious scaremongering".

Funding came from the Secretary of State's direct expenditure and not from his local authority allocations, Mr Robertson said. So "it is nonsense to suggest that the scheme undermines public sector education".

Commenting on the alleged exclusivity of the assisted places scheme, he gleefully stated: "The forum is concerned that the scheme is open to only a small minority. We agree! This is why we are moving to double the numbers in a phased expansion over the next few years."

The Rev John Taylor, chairman of the forum, had told a press conference that while the Secretary of State was imposing a cut of 5 per cent in real terms on local authorities, he was announcing a doubling of the number of assisted places at a cost of pound;9 million, "this extra money being effectively removed from the standstill budget for Scottish education".

The forum comprises 19 bodies including the Church of Scotland, Roman Catholic Church, parental associations and teacher unions.

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