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Minister soothes opt-outs' fears

The Government is to introduce a code of practice for local authorities in an attempt to outlaw victimisation of grant-maintained schools once their sector is abolished. Proposals for the non-statutory code, which will spell out how councils should conduct their relationships with schools, were outlined by education minister Stephen Byers this week.

He also revealed that local authorities would not be given the legal right of entry into schools - a move many have requested.

Mr Byers's announcement came amid increasing concern among GM heads and governors that, once a new framework for schools is introduced in April 1999, LEAs will take revenge on schools that have previously opted out.

He told the Association of Grant-Maintained and Aided Schools: "There will be some LEAs who see (the new framework) as an opportunity to regain their empires, but there will be no turning the clock back."

He underlined the Government's commitment to three new categories of schools: foundation, aided and community and said that Labour would take the best of GM and spread its message. "What has worked well we will endorse and build on."

Stephen Dorrell, shadow education secretary, asked Mr Byers: "If you remove grant-maintained schools and the option of opting out, what is the discipline to ensure LEAs don't go back to their old ways?" Mr Byers said that inspections of local authorities from next year, backed by targets and the threat of Government intervention if they were not met, would provide further guards. "We need to learn from the past but build for the future," said Mr Byers.

The Government has introduced a new independent appeals panel without representatives from the relevant school or authority as DFEE figures show that 62,900 parents appealed against school places allocated to their children in 199596 - an 8,600 rise on the previous year.

GM sector pleads for protection, page 9

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