Schools get new chance to opt out

5th May 2000 at 01:00
Former GM schools try to persuade others of the benefits of their new foundation status, reports Clare Dean

A CAMPAIGN to persuade council-run schools to opt out and take control of key functions from local authorities begins in the autumn.

Former grant-maintained schools are lining up to offer advice and support to governing bodies wanting to join them in the new foundation sector.

Foundation schools employ their own staff, own their buildings, and set their own admissions policy.

The move will follow the end this September of the moratorium on schools switching status.

Documents listing the benefits of change are being drawn up by the Foundation and Voluntary Aided Schools Association. Its chairman Pauline Latham said:

"It's all about taking control of your own destiny."

She predicted: "A lot of schools will be looking at making the change."

When grant-maintained schools were axed, three new types of school were created by the Government - community, foundation and voluntary.

There is very little difference between foundation and voluntary schools. In community schools, however, the local authority is, technically, the employer, owns the premises and is responsible for admissions.

Funding for all three types of school is channelled through councils, unlike GM schools, which were funded directly by central government.

Some 859 GM schools were granted foundation status.

Mrs Latham admitted that foundation status may only have "fringe" benefits. But she insisted: "It's about having more control, about how you spend your mney and not having to go to the local authority all of the time.

Her association, which represents 800 foundation and voluntary aided schools, plans to use its network of regional contacts to talk community schools through the practicalities.

"If you are a successful school which knows where it is going and what it wants for your children it's a very viable option," said Mrs Latham. "I am sure that a lot of schools will consider going."

She stands down as chairman this month to concentrate on fighting the parliamentary seat of Broxtowe in the Midlands for the Tories at the next general election.

Mrs Latham was for three years chairman of the Grant-Maintained Schools Advisory Committee. The experience has taught her some hard political lessons. "The biggest mistake we made was believing the Conservative government was going to do what we wanted," she admitted. "We were very disappointed that the Tory manifesto didn't call for every secondary school to become GM.

"It was naivety on the part of the whole committee. We believed we had good links with the government but they were not as good as we thought.

"When Labour came in we realised we had to lobby and fight our corner. We have become much more effective."

Civil servants are working on regulations governing changes in school status. But Martin Rogers of The Education Network - an information service for local authorities - denied there would be a rush for foundation status. "Despite the bribes and presuures, most schools did not opt out," he said. "Why should they do something now?"

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