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Building on a Pounds 2m foundation

Public appointments, payments to MPs and the role of quangos are under scrutiny. The TES examines the likely impact of the Nolan inquiry on the world of education. Among the institutions set up by the present Government to promote its radical education reforms is the Grant-Maintained Schools Foundation, which has already come under scrutiny for the way it operates and makes appointments.

The chairman of the foundation, a limited company that receives all its funding from the Department for Education, is Sir Robert Balchin. He is an influential Conservative and treasurer of the party's south-east region, and is also chairman of the Grant-Maintained Schools Centre, a private company that sells services to grant-maintained schools. (Sir Robert is also a member of the Funding Agency for Schools) The foundation was created earlier this year (it took on the name of a former charitable body) and its role is to provide information to schools about becoming grant-maintained. The job of chief officer was not advertised. The appointment went to Andrew Turner, a Conservative county councillor in Oxfordshire, who was transferred from the Grant-Maintained Schools Centre. He had formerly been employed by a trust set up to promote opting-out to schools.

The foundation said this week that eight staff work from the London office, excluding the chairman, and four in the regional offices. A further three regional offices will open in the North-east, Exeter and Swansea.

The foundation's press officer, Jenny Smith, said terms and conditions of employees were confidential. Although wholly funded by the DFE - a grant of Pounds 695,000 this year - it operates independently. It is not listed as a non-departmental government body and the conditions of its grant are set out in confidential memoranda.

Before its creation, the DFE was funding the Grant-Maintained Schools Centre. In 19934 the centre received Pounds 800,000. In total, it has had about Pounds 2 million, intended to enable the centre to provide services to grant-maintained schools. The National Audit Office does not audit the accounts, but it does have powers of investigation.

The foundation appoints its own directors. They include Sir Christopher Lawson, former director of marketing for the Tory party. Sir Robert is not paid by the centre. Directors can claim an attendance allowance of Pounds 55 a day.

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