Labour mulls over its opt-out line

10th March 1995 at 00:00
Labour's revised policy on grant-maintained schools is not likely to be drafted before the summer. The education team has taken soundings from heads of opt-out schools over the last few weeks and intends taking further advice before drawing up policy options.

According to John Wilkins, head of Stantonbury in Milton Keynes and chairman of the Association of Heads of Grant-Maintained Schools, the discussions have been constructive. "We feel Labour is willing to draw on the good experience of grant-maintained schools."

The AHGMS has raised the possibility of schools accepting local authority governors in return for representation on councils and keeping control of their staff appointments, buildings and land.

The rival opt-out group, the Advisory Committee for Grant-Maintained Schools, has not had a separate meeting with David Blunkett, Labour's education front-bencher, but members attended a reception last week.

Cecil Knight, head of Small Heath school in Birmingham, and chairman of the advisory committee, said he found Labour willing to listen. But he added that schools were keen to retain their autonomy and flexibility - and also that part of their funding that took account of the fact that they do not receive services from a local authority.

As well as talking to grant-maintained schools, Mr Blunkett's team is meeting independent schools that might consider applying to join the state sector. Labour is committed to abolishing assisted places for children from low-income families and some schools have up to a third of pupils paid for through the scheme.

Tony Blair, Labour's leader, has held separate discussions with key directors of education.

The decision by the Blair family to send their son to the grant-maintained London Oratory leaves the Labour leader open to attacks from the Conservatives. Gillian Shephard, speaking at the Conservative local government conference, said Mr Blair had signalled his approval of GM schools and Labour should say where it stood on the issue.

* The head of the first comprehensive to opt out has been suspended by the school's governors.

Chris Hampson, head of St James's Church of England school in Bolton, was told of his suspension within minutes of returning to school after sick leave.

The governors issued a statement saying Mr Hampson had been suspended following a complaint concerning "certain administrative matters in relation to the school".

Mr Hampson had been away from school since before Christmas suffering from a severe ear infection and depression. The National Association of Head Teachers is querying the suspension procedure.

St James's opted out in the face of strong opposition from the local authority, which wanted to close the school. Since then, Mr Hampson has been a GM enthusiast.

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