The Government has given the go-ahead for grant-maintained schools to open nursery classes, but only in areas where the local authority has not put forward formal objections.
The decision to approve applications from All Saints Church of England primary in Sutton and Cuffley primary in Hertfordshire does not appear to mean the Department for Education has overcome the legal and financial difficulties preventing primary schools opening nursery classes.
Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, has another 15 applications from GM primary schools on her desk.
The reluctance to give other schools approval appears to be due to the fact that their local authorities object to providing the funding.
In Sutton, All Saints is the only primary without a nursery class and one would have been provided if the school had remained with the local authority. Hertfordshire did not object to the application from Cuffley on the grounds that nursery provision is needed in the area and 85 per cent of schools in the county have nursery classes.
However, Humberside has objected to an application from Wold Newton primary - submitted in January 1993 - on the grounds that it only has the finance to pay for nursery classes in urban priority areas.
In announcing her decision to approve the first two nursery classes, Mrs Shephard said that her decision did not mean that all outstanding issues on grant-maintained nursery classes have been resolved.
While the Funding Agency for Schools will provide building costs of new nursery classes, the running costs have to come from local authority budgets. Local authorities might legally challenge any decision that forced them to fund nursery classes in areas where nursery education is not being provided by the council.
According to Martin Rogers of Local Schools Information, which provides information on the disadvantages of grant-maintained status, the decision suggests that primary schools that opt out in order to get approval for nursery classes may be misguided. "It looks as though nursery classes are only going to get approval where there are no objections from the local authority," he said.