Independent school wants to opt in

1st March 1996 at 00:00
St Edward's College, Liverpool, whose old boys include Peter Kilfoyle, a Labour party spokesman on schools, wants to leave the independent sector and become grant-maintained. If successful, it will join two other Merseyside Roman Catholic schools, St Anselm's and Upton Hall Convent, which opted in last September.

The Funding Agency for Schools, which would take over the finances, reckons that around 20 independent schools are considering similar action, but few have made formal proposals.

St Edward's, a former direct-grant school, is one of the flagships of the Assisted Places Scheme, which helps about half of its 840 pupils. Two-thirds come from families on incomes of less than Pounds 10,000 and 150 have free school meals. St Edward's receives more than Pounds 1 million from the scheme.

John Waszek, the head, said the governors decided to apply for GM status from September 1997 because it was the best way to preserve the 150-year-old school's tradition of providing all-round education for children regardless of background.

The school is noted for music - it is the choir school for Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral - and sport. Thirty boys and girls with musical talent would still be taken in Year 7, but the school would drop its exam for the rest of the 120-strong intake, and rely on questionnaires and references from junior school heads and parish priests.

Mr Waszek denied that the governors were prompted to change status because of Labour's pledge to abolish assisted places. "Regardless of political change, it will be easier to fulfil the school's mission as grant-maintained. Had that option been available in the late 1970s [when Labour abolished direct-grants] the school would have taken it." He added: "What pleases me is the range of support from all political parties, including Mr Kilfoyle."

He said it was not an easy option, as going GM would mean a budget cut. The FAS would fund St Edward's in line with local authority schools with grants for restructuring and staff training, VAT and insurance, a capital grant of Pounds 12,000 plus Pounds 24 per pupil a year.

St Edward's receives an average of Pounds 2,971 for each assisted place and fees are Pounds 3,498 a year; the LEA spends Pounds 2,319 on 11 to 15-year-olds, and Pounds 3,613 at 16-plus.

Mr Kilfoyle said he welcomed any school with the facilities and opportunities that St Edward's could provide entering the maintained sector.

Some heads with large numbers of assisted pupils are not thinking of following suit. William Duggan, head of Batley grammar in West Yorkshire, which has nearly half of the 586 pupils on the scheme, said going grant-maintained would cost about Pounds 70,000. "We are very happy with our present status."

Judith Franklin, head of Colston Girls' in Bristol, which has half of her 500 pupils on assisted places or bursaries, had not discussed the idea with her governors.

However, she said it would be "a way forward to preserve what we are offering to inner-city girls rather than being a fee-paying-only school, which would be socially divisive".

In contrast, St Mary's in Southampton, another independent RC school, which has no assisted places, is also thinking of opting in. Brother Peter, head of the 350-strong boys' school, said that parents were having difficulty meeting the fees of Pounds 3,500 a year. "We are the only RC school offering a grammar school education locally. We try to keep the fees low."

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