Opt-out cheer from Land's End

9th February 1996 at 00:00
The isolated village of St Buryan, nestling between Penzance and Land's End in the farthest tip of Cornwall, looks an unlikely source of encouragement for the Government, but it is from here that Cornwall's first opted-out school may emerge.

St Buryan county primary school will ballot parents in coming weeks about grant-maintained status and if a "yes" vote is achieved - as seems likely - the school will be grant-maintained by September.

Headteacher Paul Gazzard is keen to point out that his school will take its decision in the best interests of the 93 pupils on roll. "I don't expect to be on the local education authority's Christmas card list, but I have nothing personal against them," he says.

But Val Cox, Liberal Democrat, chair of Cornwall's education committee, believes political pressure must have been exerted to induce the school's decision. "It is in the Government's interest to have a school in the county opt out," she asserts.

She believes it is an oddity that a school is going down the GM road at a time when the whole future of opted out schools is in the balance until after a general election.

"I think it is a very small school and they are being fairly simplistic, " she said. "The Tory party and the Government wanted to breach the last bastion to resist opting out and it was a school ready to listen."

But Mr Gazzard believes there is no guarantee of a change of Government, and he cites two main reasons for the decision at his school. A growing confidence among governors that they can cope with a 100 per cent delegated budget after their success in tackling local management of schools. And, second, a feeling that 30 miles from county hall, based in Truro, the school is isolated and has had a raw deal from the local education authority. For example, when a new classroom was needed, St Buryan was offered a temporary building. The governors rejected that and pressed ahead with a permanent building paid for by savings and a 50 per cent LEA grant. Parents raised funds to equip the new classroom.

There is now a belief that going maintained will produce an extra Pounds 25,000 for the school that would safeguard the future of the teaching staff, and help tackle the problem of lack of space .

The whole momentum for grant-maintained status came, he says, from a question raised by a parent who did not know what it meant. Leaflets and information were sought and from there speakers from both sides of the debate, including the LEA, were invited to put their case.

Mr Gazzard said: "Since our announcement I have had a number of schools contacting me enquiring about opting out. We didn't want to be the first because of all the publicity and the media spotlight, but it is up to every community and school to look at the position as it affects them."

John Vipond, head of Parc Eglos primary school, Helston, and chair of the Cornwall Association of Primary Heads, said St Buryan would not be ostracised if it opted out. But he doubted there would be any rush by other primary schools in the county to take the same road.

"In Cornwall, the LEA works in partnership with school and we very much rely upon the expertise that the LEA offers. Most schools feel being within the LEA is valuable to them and they are pleased with the quality of service they have been given," he said.

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