Scottish move sparks fear in opt-out sector

16th May 1997 at 01:00
The Scottish Office's swift abolition of opted-out schools this week has sent shock-waves through the grant-maintained sector south of the border.

In an uncompromising move Brian Wilson, the Scottish minister for education and industry, announced the return of Scotland's two self-governing schools to the local authority framework at the earliest possible date.

The contract of Ian Dutton as consultant on self-governing schools in Scotland has been terminated and a primary school which had hoped to opt out from August 1 was told it would not be able to do so.

Applications for self-governing status from John Bosco secondary in Glasgow and Greeness primary in Turriff, near Aberdeen, have been rejected. Fort William primary school, which had been expected to go self-governing in under three months' time, has now been told this will not go ahead.

Discussions to return Scotland's two self-governing schools - Dornoch Academy and St Mary's Episcopal primary - to Highland and Stirling councils have already started. Mr Wilson said: "This will bring to an end the uncertainty and divisiveness which self-governing schools have caused throughout Scottish education."

The Government simultaneously announced legislation to end grant-maintained schools in England and Wales, and introduce foundation, community and aided schools.

David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, has promised "fair" funding and, countering claims that he was overriding the choice of parents who have opted for GM, said he had the mandate to work for all schools.

The Queen's Speech this week said the framework for local management of schools and policy on admissions, selection and grammar schools would be amended.

The tough line taken in Scotland fuelled fears among the 1,200-strong grant-maintained sector in England and Wales that they would be picked on by a Labour government. They already believe that with councils once again controlling a chunk of their budgets, they are likely to be penalised.

Pauline Latham, chair of the Grant Maintained Schools Advisory Committee, said the action taken by the Scottish Office this week was high-handed and very disturbing.

"It doesn't look very much like new Labour - it seems more like old Labour to me."

She was particularly concerned by the apparent lack of consultation over the fate of the two Scottish self-governing schools, saying that Mr Blunkett had promised wide consultation in schools south of the border.

"I hope that things are going to be different in England. David Blunkett said there would be lots of consultation and I will be fighting hard for that behalf of all of our GM schools."

Queen's Speech, Page 4

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