Education Bill: Cash 'will go to new bodies instead of classes'

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The Independent Online
MONEY will be diverted into new funding agencies instead of into classrooms, according to critics of the Bill.

It became clear that John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, has ignored strong lobbying from local education authorities, led by the Conservative-run Association of County Councils, to be allowed to retain their educational services on a commercial footing. They will be permitted to supply services to grant-maintained schools only for two years, after which they must be privatised.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said yesterday: 'It is clear that this latest batch of reforms will have to be implemented on the cheap.'

The new funding authorities for grant-maintained schools in England and Wales are to be financed by savings from council costs and by closing surplus places in schools, according to the Bill's preamble.

Mr Hart said: 'I thought that the whole purpose of local management of schools was to get central administration costs down and benefit schools. Now we are told that in order to pay in part for the cost of the funding authorities we have to look to central administration cost savings.'

The Bill states: 'Local education authorities are currently paying for the upkeep of up to 1.5 million more school places than are required for present needs. Many schools are uneconomically small.'

Mr Hart said he was extremely concerned about the Government's drive against surplus places and questioned the 1.5 million figure.

'This will have a devastating effect on rural areas where most of the small schools are to be found. It takes no account of the fact that many 'surplus' places are being used effectively and beneficially by schools as libraries and music rooms to enhance educational provision for the first time in many years.'

Chris Adamson, chairman of the Association of London Authorities' education committee, said that forbidding local authorities from continuing services which grant-maintained schools wanted was a triumph of dogma. He predicted bureaucratic confusion.

Ann Taylor, Labour's education spokeswoman, said: 'It is another set of experiments on the nation's children, producing instability and uncertainty.'

Local authorities have expressed concern about the division of responsibility between themselves and the funding agencies. They also wanted to continue to supply advisory and support services to grant-maintained schools. The Bill puts a two- year limit on these services.

Martin Rogers, co-ordinator of Local Schools Information, said: 'The fact that schools cut themselves off from LEA services by opting out is an unwelcome surprise to parents, the schools and the LEAs. At the moment there is no private sector to provide most of the services that schools need.

'In opt-out ballots, parents will be gambling that such provision will exist by the time that they need it.'