Heads adopt 'wait and see' approach to opting out: Governing bodies' reaction: The White Paper on education proposes one of the biggest transfers of responsibility since the 1944 Act

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The Independent Online
WITH THE prospect of a White Paper at the end of the summer term, heads and governors of most schools decided to delay any decisions on opting out until the autumn.

Not at Stoke Newington School in Hackney, north London. Governors voted 11 to 8 to ballot parents on opting out before the end of term. The results of the ballot were released yesterday, and showed that the move had been roundly defeated: just 27 per cent voted in favour and 73 per cent against.

Mark Lushington, the National Union of Teachers representative for Hackney, said governors at the school had wanted to 'stampede' the idea through.

Nick Tallentire, one of the governors who voted against the ballot, said the reasons given in favour of opting out were financial: more money and complete control over that money. Hackney borough council overspent on its education budget by pounds 4.8m last year. 'There were rumours about a cut in the money available to schools who wished to opt out and a possible closing of the window of opportunity,' he said. 'That was largely why there was a dash for it before the end of term and the White Paper.'

Chris Lowe, head of Prince William Upper School in Oundle, Northamptonshire, where about 12 schools have already opted out, said his governors had decided to 'wait and see'. But the White Paper had proved to be 'somewhat vague' and 'no more than we had all expected'.

More waiting was in store now, until a new governing body was installed at the end of September and all the rules and regulations were made clear in the Act. 'Only then can we see what it's all about.' His worries over opting out remained. 'Not all schools are going to be allowed to opt out because some sink schools will be needed for the pupils that the grant-maintained schools have turned down, and that appals me.

'The financial incentive will never be as much as it once was, and one wasn't tempted then. The attraction is running yourself, but I believe in collaborating and working together.'

Barry Hilditch, head of Royston School in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, also said his governors had been waiting to see what came out of the White Paper. No schools in the authority had opted out as yet, so he expected 'it might be quite a while' before any did. 'But it only needs the odd one to go and you will get a snowball effect.' He thought there would be no moves before the new governing body was in place.

Exactly how it would be easier for schools to opt out had not been made clear, he felt. But he expected the Government's prediction that a significant number would opt out was correct.

Keith Smith, head of Aylesbury Grammar School for Boys in Buckinghamshire, said his governors had resolved to take stock before approaching parents on opting out. There would certainly be a debate in the governing body now the White Paper was out, but he suspected a move to ballot parents was unlikely.

'The move towards opting out will be slower in Buckinghamshire because the council is going to devolve all money to its schools,' Mr Smith said.

'Schools in this area will have as much control as they would if they opted out, and those that don't want control can simply buy in the local authority services as before.

'I'm very keen on devolving money and I think it can be done without opting out of authority control.'

(Photograph omitted)

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