Schools policy was botched but lawful

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The Independent Online
ALLEGATIONS THAT the Government unlawfully broke its promise to help children during the phasing out of the assisted-places scheme in private schools were dismissed yesterday by the Court of Appeal.

But the court said that David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, was incompetent in his handling of the affair: he had mis-stated government policy and given the impression that pupils on assisted places in the junior departments of secondary schools would continue to receive funding until they were 18. The court said the mis-statement was corrected within weeks and the Government was not bound by it or bypledges made about assisted places while in Opposition.

Last month, Mr Justice Maurice Kay said in the High Court that Tony Blair had made "an incorrect representation of policy'" by saying places were safe up to the age of 18. He also said it was "a sorry state of affairs" when Mr Blunkett had to explain his own letters because they were unclear.

The case was brought by Rachel Begbie, of Cambridge, who challenged the legality of the phasing out of funding for children on assisted places in junior departments who wanted to stay on at secondary school.

Mrs Begbie argued that the Government's policy was illegal as it broke promises made before and after the election that pupils such as her 11- year-old daughter, Heather, would keep their assis-ted places in secondary school. Heather had an assisted place in the junior part of the Leys School, Cambridge. Yesterday the Appeal Court dismissed her renewed claim that she was entitled to rely on Labour promises and could return to the Leys School for the start of term next month.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Employment said the legislation provided for children on assisted places to keep their place until the end of their primary schooling, except in special cases. There was no evidence of any other particular circumstance to justify extending the assisted place for Heather Begbie, she said.

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