Funds for school buildings frozen

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PROVISION of urgently needed new schools and classrooms in parts of the country is being held up in the Government's latest move to extend the grant-maintained sector.

Local authority plans to build schools and classrooms are being temporarily frozen while the Government waits to see whether the places could be found by extending existing grant-maintained schools or building new ones.

Any significant delays run the risk of forcing hundreds of pupils to be taught in temporary classrooms and leaving some children with no place.

In Clacton, Essex, 1,000 primary school pupils could be in temporary mobile classrooms within two years if extra classrooms are not built in time.

In the London borough of Sutton, 150 11-year-olds face not having a school place by 1997 if the building of a secondary school is held up. Plans in Surrey and Gloucestershire are also threatened.

The problem stems from John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, refusing permission for some local authorities to borrow money to build schools and classrooms pending the establishment of the Funding Agency for Schools, the quango for the grant-maintained sector which begins work on 1 April.

The agency will have parallel planning responsibilities in areas where at least 10 per cent of primary or secondary schools are grant-maintained. Nearly half local education authorities fall into this category.

Mr Patten has also asked Sir Christopher Benson, chairman-designate of the funding agency to make proposals in these areas for new or extended tained schools.