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Ministers on the retreat over funding for special schools

Education ministers have signalled some doubts yet again about their predecessors' decision to end national funding for the seven grant-aided special schools. Following a meeting with representatives of the schools, Nicol Stephen, Deputy Education Minister, announced a reprieve until March 2003.

Following publication of the Riddell report, Sam Galbraith, the former education minister, decided its recommendation that the schools' pound;12 million funding should transfer to the education authorities would take effect this year, which was later postponed until 2002.

A vociferous campaign by the schools, which feared for their future if they had to rely on local authority funding, has persuaded ministers to think again. Mr Stephen himself is to visit all the schools prior to a final decision.

In the meantime, he said, the funding regime would continue for another two years. "This will give them the stability they sought to be able to plan ahead for the next academic session," Mr Stephen said.

Brian onteith, the Tories' education spokesman, welcomed the move as "a victory for the schools and a victory for common sense".

The Riddell report based its recommendation on the argument that the schools, while funded centrally, in practice drew most of their pupils from surrounding areas and should therefore be funded locally.

Mr Monteith, who has led the political charge against this view, argued that the schools "are national centres for children with severe disabilities and, as such, they should continue to have national funding as recognition of the role they play".

The schools involved - Donaldson's College for the Deaf in Edinburgh, the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh, Corseford School in Kilbarchan, Craighalbert School in Cumbernauld, East Park Home in Glasgow, Harmeny School in Balerno and Stanmore House in Lanark - have argued that nothing should be done to jeopardise their future while the Scottish Executive's policy of mainstreaming pupils with special needs is in its infancy.

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