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Tories fail to lure opt-outs into the red

Opted-out schools have delivered a severe blow to Government attempts to open up their sector to the world of bank loans and greater selection.

Nine out of 10 grant-maintained schools say they will continue to reject any attempt to change their admissions policy while more than eight out of 10 refuse to consider borrowing on the open market.

A survey by The TES this week of more than 100 GM schools in England and Wales revealed widespread hostility to Government moves to make it easier for them to select pupils and to borrow cash.

Just 21 schools - fewer than one in five - were prepared to re-think their policies on admissions or funding. Only one, a secondary in Hertfordshire, said it planned to introduce selection while two more, one in Cheshire and the other in Luton, were considering it.

The TES survey's findings will upset ministers who have been forced in recent weeks to retreat on extending opting out and privatising student loans, both key policies. The rebuff from GM schools, which have been given John Major's personal backing, will be painful.

Last week ministers issued a consultation paper setting out plans to allow schools to admit up to 15 per cent of pupils on the basis of ability. They also launched the GM and Nursery Bill which paves the way for GM schools to borrow on the commercial market. All schools would also be able to use interviews to select pupils.

The Government was also embarrassed this week by a leaked Audit Commission draft report which said that its Pounds 750 million nursery voucher scheme could encourage fraud. Plans to extend the scheme could be undermined by a report from Welsh inspectors criticising standards in playgroups.

Fifteen months ago 89 per cent of the 514 schools interviewed by The TES in a nationwide survey said they had no plans to change the way they selected pupils and 46 per cent that they would not borrow money.

A quarter of these were contacted again this week. Sixty-three of 66 secondary schools who responded still had no plans to change their admissions policy, and 51 of 60 said they still would not take out a bank loan.

Cecil Knight, chairman of the Grant-Maintained Schools Standing Committee, said many GM schools which wanted to introduce selection had already done so.

"I don't think the Education Secretary thought it was going to bring about a colossal revolution, she just wanted to give schools flexibility."

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