Assisted places at risk after scheme frozen

Hundreds of new assisted places in private preparatory schools could be thrown into jeopardy because of a civil service freeze on processing them during the election period, independent schools warned yesterday.

The fate of more than 600 places for bright children from low-income families in 118 prep schools joining the scheme this year will be uncertain under a Labour government, even though the party has agreed to honour places already offered if it wins power, the schools said.

Some said they were now unlikely to wait for an end to the confusion and would offer the places to paying families instead.

The difficulty rests on the fact that prep schools new to the assisted places scheme have been forbidden to make any firm offers of places until they receive signed "participation agreements" from the Department for Education and Employment.

The deadline for providing the department with information for the agreements fell yesterday, by which time all processing of the scheme had been suspended for the duration of the election campaign.

Schools will now have to wait until after 1 May to make formal offers of places. They will also have to wait to see whether, if Labour wins, the new government will honour the offers.

Moves to extend the assisted places scheme were included in the Education Bill, which was rushed through Parliament last week to beat the election deadline.

In a series of deals between the parties over clauses in the Bill, Labour said children who had accepted offers by 1 May would be allowed to take up their assisted places if it took power, though it remains committed to phasing out the scheme and using the money saved to cut class sizes.

Private prep schools which have been allocated assisted places yesterday confirmed they had been told not to fill them without the formal agreement.

Andrew Corbett, headmaster of Kings College School, Cambridge, predicted a new Labour government might argue that the school could not offer its allocated five places.

He said: "Having publicly announced it was awarding these places, it now looks as if the DFEE are going to turn round and say they are not. Parents have had their hopes built up, and we have to turn round and say no, unfortunately we can't offer them."

George Marsh, headmaster of Dulwich College Preparatory School in south London, said May was likely to be too late to fill places for many schools, forcing them to give up their allocated assisted places.

Labour yesterday confirmed "any places allocated to a specific individual children" by election day would be honoured.

A party spokesman said the situation would be reviewed in the light of the freeze on agreements, but blamed government incompetence in pushing through the bill for creating the problem.

The spokesman added: "They did not have the necessary commitment behind what they apparently regard as flagship proposals."

A spokeswoman for the education department said that all processing of participation agreements had been stopped until after the election in line with guidelines on dealing with long-term commitments during an election period.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence