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One less reason to opt out

The favoured status of grant-maintained schools may be under threat following the decision by the Government to drop its preferential treatment of limiting extra funds for technology to church schools and opted-out schools.

The scheme announced in the Budget widens the specialist schools programme to offer extra money to schools for developing languages as well as technology. All schools are eligible to bid for the Pounds 15 million available in 1995-96.

According to education junior minister, Robin Squire, the intention is to add another 60 specialist schools this year to the existing 50 city technology colleges. The programme envisages 200 schools by 1997-98. This year's Pounds 15m will be followed by Pounds 20m in 1996-97 and Pounds 25m in 1997-98.

To qualify, schools have to have private sector sponsorship of around Pounds 100,000. The Department for Education provides Pounds 100,000 in capital and an additional Pounds 100 per pupil in revenue over three years.

The opening of the scheme to all schools is expected to mean intense competition for the money. Schools have to be able to demonstrate their effectiveness in their specialism.

The decision to allow all schools to bid was welcomed by the Labour Opposition. David Blunkett said he was pleased that the Government had accepted what had been a proposal from Labour to open up the scheme to all schools.

According to Martin Rogers of Local Schools Information, the anti-opting-out organisation, the switch removes one of the few remaining inducements for schools to consider becoming grant-maintained.

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