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Brush-up truancy windfall;Letter;News and opinion

I AM writing to draw attention to the little-known Standards Fund 19: Pupil Support Grant, which is to be introduced in April 2000.

Having looked at the rules which govern this grant, one can only assume that the Department for Education and Employment official who devised them was an early victim of the millennium bug!

This grant is to be distributed mainly to schools with high levels of social exclusion, with the intention of helping them to reduce exclusions and truancy. So far so good.

However the catch-22 is that, for every pupil permanently excluded, the school must repay between pound;3,000 and pound;6,000 of the grant to the local education authority. Similarly if the school fails to reduce truancy by a specified amount then large amounts of the grant must be repayed.

Maybe the DFEE could explain how a school could even begin to consider spending its grant under these circumstances.

If the money is spent but the targets are not met then the school would have to fund the expenditure incurred from its delegated budget. Most schools with high levels of social exclusion are simply not in a position to take this kind of risk.

The intention behind the clawback arrangement was to offer positive incentives to schools to retain and manage difficult pupils. These same clawback arrangements will ensure that this ambition is not realised.

If the DFEE insists on penalising schools which don't always succeed in the most difficult of circumstances, then it should reduce the following year's Standards Fund 19 allocation.

At least this would allow a school to try out imaginative ideas for managing the most difficult pupils, in the knowledge that its core funding was not put in jeopardy.

Under the present arrangements a school can only sit on the money and see what turns up. Only if it is clear that fewer pupils have in fact been excluded and that truancy has in fact been cut will the school be in a position to spend what would then be a "windfall". Please think again, minister.

Tony Toubkin

Thornleigh Lodge

Thornleigh Drive

Burton, Lancashire

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