Parents face third ballot on opting out

Clare Dean

A Leicestershire middle school is to ballot its parents on opting out for the third time in four years.

Manor High in Oadby this week became only the second school in the country to agree to hold a poll on grant-maintained status three times.

Multiple ballots are still fairly rare. Out of the 1,636 ballots so far in England 13 schools have twice rejected GMS and 24 have voted no, then yes on second attempt. The only other school to ballot three times has been Preston Manor High in the London borough of Brent, which opted out after the final poll.

Two years ago the Leicestershire parents were narrowly split on the proposal for their school to go GM in the face of budget cuts. On a 64 per cent turn-out, 55 per cent voted against opting out compared to 45 per cent who wanted to go it alone.

For those wanting to go GM, however, that result represented an improvement first voting figures in May 1991, when parents overwhelmingly rejected GMS. On a 65 per cent turn-out just 199 parents, or 27 per cent, voted yes to GMS while 73 per cent said no. The school would not comment on its latest attempt to opt out.

Three of its neighbours - Abington, Bushloe and South Wigston high schools - have all gone GM since Manor High's last failed attempt. And out of 11 other opt-out ballots in Leicestershire, 10 have resulted in no votes.

Elaine King, a governor at Manor High and secretary of the Keep Manor Local campaign, said earlier GM drives had split the school.

"We have got a whole new set of parents over the past two years who have not considered GM before and will have to consider it now for the first time. It causes great upset. It does tremendous damage in the staffroom and among governors. We have only really started working together again in the past six months."

* The Education Assets Board has been called into 75 disputes between LEAs and opted-out schools over ownership of properties and land. The tussles for control cover assets worth millions of pounds which have been handed over to schools once they gain GM status.

Many local authorities are loath to give up valuable land and buildings - especially as they may still be paying for them.

Every approved GM school goes through the Leeds-based Education Assets Board, which deals with disputes and attempts to negotiate agreement between the two sides.

The disputes are referred to the Secretary of State if the EAB finds it impossible to negotiate agreement and Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, is likely to have to rule on at least half of them. But with cases lasting up to a year with the EAB before going to her for appeal, schools and local authorities will have to wait a long time to find out just who owns what.

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