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Opt-out leaflet ruled `misleading'

A leaflet circulated by opt-out campaigners during a controversial primary-school ballot was potentially misleading, the Department for Education and Employment has ruled.

Parents at Beck primary in Sheffield voted by more than three to one against grant-maintained status after a ferocious campaign in which both Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard and Labour spokesman David Blunkett became embroiled.

On the eve of the ballot, the local education authority became aware of a leaflet sent to parents via pupils which claimed: "If you vote NO: Beck's budget for 199697 is bigger than last year but school numbers are up. After paying staff and running costs, only Pounds 21.50 is left to pay for educational supplies . . . Pounds 21.50 buys very little these days, which means there will be few new books and not much new equipment."

Concerned that some parents might have thought the Pounds 21.50 figure referred to the whole school, not individual pupils, David Waxman, Sheffield's acting director of education, referred the leaflet to the DFEE. The reply, received this week, said: "An omission such as you point out would give cause for concern. If this document was circulated without any supporting evidence, it could be considered materially misleading." A city council spokesman was "happy with the response".

Beck, the largest primary in Sheffield, is in Mr Blunkett's constituency. Labour politicians suspected potentially sensitive constituencies of the party's education team were being targeted by pro-opting-out campaigners.

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