GM option remains open

27th March 1998 at 00:00
Legislation has enabled parents' groups to demand and set up schools since 1993 - but none has done so, writes Dorothy Lepkowska.

Under the existing law, parents can apply to the Secretary of State to open a grant-maintained school if they can meet criteria relating to private funding, the need for school places in the area and ensure delivery of the national curriculum.

The new School Standards and Framework Bill will retain their ability to apply to open aided, community or foundation schools - which will supersede grant-maintained schools - subject to the same demands being met.

A spokeswoman said: "The Bill is still in its report stages so nothing is definite, however it is expected that any proposals from parents will have to be considered on their merits, subject to the relevant criteria being met."

Although the prospect of opening new grant-maintained schools was mooted in some localities, the offer was never taken up and today few campaigners even realise the possibility exists.

Nevertheless, parents have achieved some headway in terms of choice in recent months.

An Appeal Court ruling last October, which has become known as the Rotherham Judgment, made it unlawful for education authorities to restrict admissions to schools based on catchment areas because it meant parents living further away did not get sufficient choice.

The case was pursued by 10 Rotherham families who were unable to get a place for their children at a popular school because it was full of local children.

The ruling was a blow to the catchment area system, favoured by many local authorities as the fairest way of allocating places in over-subscribed schools.

More recently, the admissions issue came under the spotlight when the school standards minister, Stephen Byers, told parents last month they would be able to send their children to their preferred school if they could demonstrate the alternative offered was either failing or compared unfavourably.

The pronouncement raised issues over the expansion of popular schools and whether governors could be forced to accept children into schools which are already full.

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