Windfall for some, panic for one

13th June 1997 at 01:00
Life under Labour is tough for some in the grant-maintained sector. Frances Rafferty reports

Three grant-maintained schools' organisations have been offered an unexpected windfall of Pounds 15,000 each from the Department for Education and Employment.

The organisations are all self-financing and are in sound financial health. Meanwhile the DFEE is cutting the grant to the influential Grant-Maintained Standing Advisory Committee (GMSAC), an elected body which represents governors and staff in GM schools.

GMSAC receives an annual grant of Pounds 100,000. It gives advice to GM schools and represents the opt-out sector at meetings held at the DFEE, the Office for Standards in Education and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

Its chairman, Pauline Latham, says that David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, has gone back on a promise made before the election not to pull the plug on its funds. The Government will abolish GM schools, but has already allowed one to opt out.

Mrs Latham believes GMSAC is seen as a political organisation because it was given a grant by the Conservative government. Sir Robert Balchin, chair of the Grant-Maintained Schools Foundation, is an ex-officio member and Mrs Latham believes ministers are mistakenly linking the two groups.

Mrs Latham was a Conservative councillor in Derbyshire, but she said: "As chair of GMSAC, I am not acting politically. It is an elected body and its members are of all political persuasions. We do not recruit GM schools, just service them."

She was told in a letter from the DFEE:"Ministers are, as you know, committed to ending GM status in its present from and introducing a new framework . . . Legislation for that will be introduced as soon as possible. Meanwhile, (ministers) do not consider it would be good use of public funds to continue paying for the sort of information activities previously undertaken and provision of advice to schools about GM status."

GMSAC was due to receive Pounds 60,000 in grant. It has been given Pounds 15,000 and will have to make its part-time secretary redundant. Mrs Latham said GMSAC, as a company limited by guarantee, may now have to wind up. Its annual general meeting next Friday will decide.

The DFEE says the payments to the other organisations have been awarded so that as many GM bodies as possible can take part in the consultation preceding the legislation which will abolish the sector and set up a new framework of foundation, community and aided schools.

The three organisations receiving the money are the Association of Heads of Grant-Maintained Schools, the National Association of Grant-Maintained Primary Schools and the Association of Grant-Maintained and Aided Schools.

George Phipson, chair of the AHGMS, said that he may not accept the money (heads pay Pounds 50 each to join) and that he looked forward to the consultation. He said jobs could be lost in the sector with the end of GM status. He is also concerned that funding should be related to the schools' responsibilities: foundation schools, which most GM schools are expected to become, will still own the buildings and be the staff's employer. He said: "I hope the Government will retain the elements of GM schools that have been successful."

The National Association of GM Primary Schools is financed by sponsorship and donation. Bob Wright, its chair, said he would use the DFEE's money to prepare a response to the forthcoming White Paper, which will outline the changes, and for meetings with ministers and officials. He said: "We are looking forward to the consultation. It may have been easier for us if there was a Conservative Government, but we do not have a political axe to grind. We are not anticipating a major change and hope there will be a levelling-up of council schools to GM good practice."

John Edwards, secretary of the Association of GM and Aided Schools, said: "Schools have opted out for all sorts of reasons, not necessarily political. I am sure we can have a constructive consultation with the DFEE."

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