Opt-out expenses reach Pounds 100,000

26th May 1995 at 01:00
The Government has spent almost Pounds 100,000 on expenses for 114 schools holding opt-out ballots.

The cash - almost Pounds 2 per pupil - has been spent in the main on a campaign to tell parents about grant-maintained status but opt-out opponents claim it has had little effect.

Fewer than half of the schools to have held a ballot since January 1994, when ministers introduced a grant to cover GM expenses, have taken up the offer. Of the 232 schools holding ballots, 114 applied for the grant while 118 did not.

Schools are able to claim up to a maximum of Pounds 700 plus Pounds 1-per pupil on the roll in addition to receiving the Department for Education's own publications and videos free of charge promoting opt-out options.

The grant covers preparing, producing, commissioning or distributing material, advertising, holding a meeting or securing information.

Of the 114 schools that applied for the grant, most were below the maximum, though often only slightly. Eighteen schools claimed, but were not paid, more.

The proportion of ballots in favour of opting out was 56 per cent, regardless of whether or not schools had used the grant - 64 of the 114 schools which claimed and 66 of the 118 which did not.

Only 10 per cent of schools claiming the grant purchased a booklet produced by the local authority-funded advisory group Local Schools Information.

Martin Rogers of LSI said: "The position is heavily biased in favour of the presentation of pro-opt-out views: schools have access to a grant and free materials from the DFE and often use pupil post to reduce their costs.

"Parents have a right to expect a range of views and governors are under a moral obligation to provide it. Ironically their frequent refusal to do so makes a major contribution to the high level of rejection of opting out - but it often causes considerable ill-will, which must be bad for schools and children's education," he added.

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