The pounds 650,000 school for one

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The Independent Online
A residential school funded with public money, with a staff of 38, annual running costs of pounds 650,000, and room for 80 students, is currently looking after one pupil. The pupil, receiving what may well be one of the most expensive state educations in the world, is currently costing the London Borough of Lambeth more than 200 times the bill for every other child.

Enborne Lodge School, in Newbury, Berkshire, is supposed to house bright children who have behavioural and emotional problems. The special school was funded by the Inner London Education Authority, but when ILEA was disbanded in 1990 responsibility for its running moved to Lambeth.

With Lambeth responsible for the education of more than 20,000 pupils, and planning spending cuts of pounds 2.9m on an annual budget of just under pounds 100m, the financial fiasco of Enborne has turned into a political fight for each party in the hung local-government council.

As part of a review of its education spending, begun in September last year, Lambeth decided it could no longer afford Enborne, then housing more than one student. But the parents of one pupil decided to take legal action to halt the council plans. In May, at a civil action in the High Court, a judge granted an injunctionpreventing the school's closure. Central to this decision was criticism that Lambeth had not properly consulted parents.

The by-the-book consultation process began on 19 September. While this three- month process is being carried out, Lambeth has no option but to keep the school open.

However, last night, Tony Freke, chairman of the school's board of governors, laid the blame at the door of the council. Since 1990, he said, the council appeared to have had a policy of deliberately running the school down by refusing to process applications for other councils to place pupils there.

Crucially, Mr Freke said that for the judicially ordered consultation to begin, Lambeth should have placed on the school wall a notice of its intent to close the school. "So far there has been no notice," he said. "It is now likely this will go on well beyond three months of consultation. Seven or eight months now seems a likely timescale."

With pupils in Lambeth each costing the authority an annual pounds 3,000, the council's Tory group education spokesman, John Whelan, claimed the pounds 650,000 bill for one pupil must be the most expensive education in the world.

The Liberal Democrats on the council say the mess arose from the legacy of the last Labour-controlled council. The Labour group maintains that special schools like Enborne are needed and fulfil a crucial role.