Mother fights axing of assisted school place

THE HOPES of an 11-year-old boy being allowed to continue his education at a private boarding school under the assisted places scheme hung in the balance yesterday.

A High Court judge heard that the Department for Education and Employment is now considering "fresh material" supporting the case of Alastair Sanderson, who is in danger of losing his place at the King's School in Ely, Cambridgeshire, following the rundown of the scheme. The parents of manypupils in a similar dilemma are closely watching the case.

Alastair's mother, Yvonne Sanderson, 39, of Kidlington, Oxfordshire, yesterday came to court to launch a test-case challenge against the decision last February of David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, not to exercise his discretion to permit her son to keep his assisted place at the 800-pupil school throughout his secondary education until the age of 18.

But her application for leave to apply for judicial review was adjourned after Philip Engelman, appearing for the family, announced that Mr Blunkett was "redetermining" the case.

Pushpinder Saini, for the Secretary of State, said it was not accepted that the minister "has done anything wrong", but a redetermination was necessary because the family solicitors had submitted further material and a decision would be made by 26 June.

Mr Justice Hidden said he would adjourn the case and order that it should come for an expedited hearing in July if Mrs Sanderson wished to challenge Mr Blunkett's final decision.

Mrs Sanderson said outside court that Alastair, who had learning difficulties, started at King's School last September after being offered his place in February 1997. The 1997 Education (Schools) Act, which came into force on 1 September, abolished the scheme for secondary education. But the Secretary of State had discretion to continue to fund existing pupils.

Mrs Sanderson said: "The main issue is that a promise given by the Government, that children offered assisted places will continue their education, should not be broken.

"We have had a letter from Mr Blunkett saying that he will honour this promise."

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