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Opted-out surpluses look set to shrink

Large surpluses at grant-maintained schools will tumble this year if Kingsbury High School in Brent is typical. It had huge reserves of Pounds 714,066 at the end of March 1994 but most has now been spent on buildings, according to deputy head David King.

The school has just opened a dining hall costing Pounds 200,000 and big sums are being spent fixing the roof, installing alarm systems and perimeter fencing, improving the sports' hall changing rooms and decorating the two sites for the first time in 15 years. "We have inherited problems of maintenance and most of the money has been allocated to that," said Mr King.

London Nautical School has one of the biggest deficits in the country, just over Pounds 130,000, but claims to be heading for a positive balance of more than Pounds 100,000 at the end of March 1995. It has been boosted by a special grant from the Funding Agency for Schools to teach nautical studies and an extra Pounds 200,000 just for being moved from Southwark to Lambeth in last year's local-government boundary changes.

Hayes Manor in Hillingdon has an even bigger deficit of Pounds 266,000 but headteacher Jim Farr claims this was created by inaccurate figures when the school opted out in 1992 and was being gradually reduced. Despite the debt, the school has made improvements such as replacing a roof, building new kitchens and improving fire precautions.

While many local-authority schools also have large reserves and a few have more than Pounds 400,000, they are dwarfed by grant-maintained schools. Bedfordshire, for example, has 23 LEA secondary schools with surpluses averaging Pounds 58,000, but the eight GM secondaries in the county have reserves of Pounds 191,000 on average, about 230 per cent more. In Cheshire the opted-out schools have almost Pounds 145,000 more in the bank on average than LEA schools.

In areas where large numbers of schools have opted out there are huge balances salted away in the accounts of GM schools. Essex's 117 opted-out primary and secondary schools had Pounds 10.7 million in March 1994 and Kent's 72 schools had Pounds 5.4m. The 25 GM schools in Hertfordshire had surpluses totalling Pounds 3.7m and the 44 in Lincolnshire had Pounds 3.1m; Birmingham, Brent, Gloucestershire, Hampshire and Wiltshire had more than Pounds 2m each.

Many of the prosperous schools are in socially deprived areas. GM schools in Lambeth, Brent and Wandsworth, for example, have average balances of more than Pounds 200,000.

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