THE parties in 300 schools had already taken place and the staff had mentally spent their achievement award on a holiday or other treats - then the letter arrived.
The Department for Education and Employment said that, due to a miscalculation by officials, they no longer qualified for the award which recognised school improvement in 6,800 primary and secondary schools. The schools were to be removed from the awards' website, they would not receive a certificate, but they could keep the cash.
Meanwhile, a second flurry of letters informed a further 300 schools that they were in fact eligible for the award of up to pound;25,000, despite their earlier disappointment.
Teachers at the 640-pupil Seymour Park primary in Trafford told The TES that they are not going to touch the pound;14,000 they were given by mistake.
"We feel insulted. We were told we could keep the money, but it is the award that is important to us," said headteacher Jenny Dunne.
Most of the teachers had already decided how they were going to spend the pound;370, but none now wants the money.
Barbara Hatch, head of Bedford Hall Methodist primary near Wigan, said the news that her school did not meet requirements for the award had left her devastated.
"It was me that was left to tell staff. I can't believe they could treat people this way," she said. "We've decided to keep the pound;6,500. My teachers work very hard and deserve recognition."
Both schools complain they were not given th statistics on which the award was based. "If officials had sent the figures in advance, I could have checked them to make sure we qualified. We still haven't been told the basis for calculating the awards," said Mrs Hatch.
The calculations are based on an average point score, using test and exam results showing the rate of improvement from 1997 to 2000. The mistake was made by miscalculating the schools' average point scores in tests for 11-year-olds.
The error will cost the Department for Education and Employment around pound;2 million. A spokesman said: "We regret any embarrassment caused to schools affected by the error and Estelle Morris has written to them and apologised."
The pound;60 million awards scheme was controversial even before the latest blunders. Professor Harvey Goldstein, of London University's Institute of Education, said many successful schools had missed out because the DFEE did not take into account pupils' prior attainment (TES, March 23). And even successful recipients predict the awards will prove divisive as there will be disagreements over how the money should be spent.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, agreed the test had sparked protests from award winners and those who had missed out.
He said: "The award scheme itself is highly controversial. The association has received a great number of protests from members, both those who have received the award and those who have not. It is an outrage that a miscalculation by the DFEE has resulted in the whole process being brought into further disrepute."