Opt-out row goes to Major

Supporters of an application by a school in John Major's constituency to become grant-maintained have been joined by objectors in demanding an answer from ministers.

The application seeking grant-maintained status for the 1,250-pupil Arthur Mellows Village College, a mixed comprehensive in Glinton, a village near Peterborough, was sent to the Department for Education and Employment more than six months ago after parents voted two to one in favour of the move.

Cambridgeshire County Council and a small group of parents who bitterly opposed the opt-out registered their objections at the same time, accusing the governors of issuing misleading information in the ballot campaign.

The governors were told by DFEE officials that the school could become grant-maintained by September.

But six months and dozens of enquiries later, the school is no nearer knowing whether it will become grant-maintained or stay under local authority control - and is sliding into debt.

The governors warned parents that staying with the county council would mean up to 12 jobs being lost at the school, including eight teachers.

They are maintaining the budget at its present level, but fear they will owe Pounds 20,000 a month if they end up having to remain with the council.

Chairman of the governors, Gilmour McLaren, said: "We've spent a huge amount of time and energy responding to enquiries from the DFEE and sending them information and reminders but we're still completely in the dark about what is happening.

"We're running on a budget which assumes we would be grant-maintained on September 1. It's an intolerable position for any employer to be put into. "

In desperation, the governors and the objectors have written to Mr Major, and the Conservative party chairman Brian Mawhinney (the school will be in part of the constituency he will be fighting from May after boundary changes), seeking their help.

The objecting parents, who complained that the governors had exaggerated the threat to school budgets if it stayed with the county council, are equally angry over the unexplained delay.

Spokesperson Sue Nash said: "We were against opting out in principle, but it's absolutely intolerable that we've been left in limbo all this time. All we've had from the Department for Education and Employment is a lot of flannel. "

The county council is also demanding an answer. Kevin Manley, assistant education director, said: "We've made very frequent attempts to find out what was happening but it seems to have gone cold.

"The DFEE keeps saying it's with ministers and the answer will be given imminently but we've heard nothing.

"We would desperately like to know the outcome. It's in no-one's interests to have this uncertainty hanging over us."

A spokesperson for the DFEE said: "The investigation has, due to its complexity, taken a little longer than we would have wished.

"However, a decision is expected shortly and will not be affected by the delay concerning the complaint about the ballot."

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