THE local government ombudsman is to be asked to investigate a Conservative-controlled council which is giving nearly pound;2 million a year to private schools while its own headteachers complain of cash shortages.
Lincolnshire council is spending an extra pound;281,000 a year educating 50 pupils at the independent Stamford endowed schools, at a time when many secondary heads expect their schools to go into deficit.
The authority pays about pound;1.8 million annually for 25 boys and 25 girls to attend Stamford school and Stamford high school, at a discount on the normal pound;6,972 day fee. Now councillors have voted to increase the amount per pupil from pound;4,450 to pound;5,400 in 2003-04. The students are chosen from the Stamford area by ability and do not have to contribute to the fees.
Ian Wright, chairman of the Lincolnshire Association of Secondary Headteachers, said half of the county's 63 secondaries were heading for deficits of between pound;17,000 and pound;510,000 by the end of next year. Another headteacher, Paul Strong of William Farr school in Welton, near Lincoln, called the decision a misuse of public funds. He said it was "bordering on the immoral". He faces an extra pound;300,000 on his staff bill and said that even if the extra cash for private schools was spread across every child in the county it would still help with costs such as leasing computers.
Now a group of Lincolnshire parents plans to write to the local government ombudsman claiming the scheme is discriminatory and formally asking her to investigate.
The parents say only families in the Stamford area can access the scheme and that not all schools are being given funding to meet increased staff costs.
But Maureen Spencer-Gregson, who holds the council's education portfolio, said the contract was "a very favourable way of educating children in that area where we have no grammar school". She said the extra money was not coming out of the education budget but would be found from a contingency pot.
"If parents are anxious about their own children in their own schools they haven't got the full message and full picture that this is not affecting their children at all," she said. The extra money would only equate to 0.1 per cent of the pound;300 million county schools budget, she added.
David Moss-Bowpitt, vice-principal of the Stamford endowed schools, said changes to the way staff were paid, such as the introduction of threshold payments, had pushed costs up, which was why the council had been asked to review the terms of the contract.
Famous alumni of the Stamford schools, motto "Christ me spede", include army chief of staff General Sir Michael Jackson.