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Labour sends out feelers to GM sector

Grant-maintained schools are to be asked their views about their future under a Labour government. The invitation to heads and governors to set out their case is contained in a statement drawn up by Labour party leader Tony Blair and the head of his education team, David Blunkett.

Labour is looking for a local framework that would be acceptable to both local authority and opted-out schools. According to Mr Blunkett, a Labour government would abolish grant-maintained status, but he wants to examine in detail the objections schools might have to coming within the remit of the local education authority.

In his first interview since taking up his appointment, he said:"I want to know the underlying reasons for schools becoming grant-maintained, apart from those that are purely ideological. If it is the bureaucracy they want to escape, let us challenge that bureaucracy."

A revision of Labour's policy has been predicted following the re-shuffle of the party's shadow cabinet in which Ann Taylor was moved from education. The latest statement appears to be an interim measure to allow debate about the kind of local structure required to enhance achievement.

All schools are being asked to contribute to the party's review of the education service for the next century. The statement makes the point that financial devolution has allowed all schools to become in essence self-governing.

However, Mr Blunkett confirmed that the intention remains that GM status will cease to exist under a Labour government and the Funding Agency for Schools will be abolished.

The statement reads:"We therefore intend to open up discussion so that we can reach a consensus on the role of all schools - local authority; voluntary-aided and grant-maintained - in a flexible and acceptable framework to achieve their and our goals."

The party's policy paper on further and higher education has been further delayed.

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