Independent Catholic schools set to `opt in'

FRAN ABRAMS

Education Correspondent

Two independent schools are to be allowed to "opt in" to the state sector, it was announced yesterday.

Education ministers said they were minded to allow two Roman Catholic schools in Merseyside to become grant-maintained once some minor changes had been made.

St Anselm's College and Upton Hall Convent School are both former direct grant grammar schools which have many state-funded pupils. Both are members of the assisted places scheme, under which the Government pays fees for bright children. Their local authority, Wirral, also pays for some pupils because there is a shortage of places for Catholics in the area.

Announcing the move, Robin Squire, the schools minister, said grant-maintained status would allow the schools freedom to manage both curriculum and finance as they pleased.

"I am sure that St Anselm's and Upton Hall will flourish within the maintained sector and will make a valuable contribution to the choice, diversity and quality of education in the area," he said.

At Upton Hall, half of the pupils are paid for by the local authority and a further quarter have assisted places. Jack Heery, chair of governors, said the change would secure the school's financial future. Its trustees, the Faithful Companions of Jesus, were not opposed to it becoming a state school.

"It was fairly easy in relative terms for the Government to decide to approve our application. It might not apply to other independent schools if they decided to go for it," he said.

Ironically, Upton Hall has two local authority governors at present but will not be able to do so as a grant-maintained school.

Chris Cleugh, head of St Anselm's, said its budget would fall by pounds 300,000. He saw no link with moves to bring other former direct-grant grammars, such as Manchester Grammar School, back into the state system. "Our decision was driven by purely local circumstances," he said.

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