Key school ballot creates bitter divisions: The outcome of a vote by parents on whether Blatchington Mill School should opt out of local authority control will be known today. But whatever the result, the anger will take time to fade. Diana Hinds reports

AS SCHOOLS across the country ponder whether or not to opt out of local authority control, the experience of Blatchington Mill School in Hove, East Sussex, may serve as a cautionary tale. The result of the school's parental ballot on opting out will be announced today, but the build-up has been dogged by anger, doubt and acrimony on all sides.

If the 1,200-pupil comprehensive does become the first grant-maintained school in Conservative-controlled East Sussex, it will be a feather in the cap for the Government and its beleaguered opt-out policy. East Sussex is an authority that prides itself on good relations with its schools, and funding above the Government's standard assessment levels. But if Blatchington Mill decides to opt out, other schools in the county are bound to follow suit for fear of being left behind.

Those in favour of the school opting out, including the headmaster, Gordon Tuffnell, a majority of the governing body and some parents, like the idea of the increased revenue the school would attract in the first year, and of gaining total control over their budget, compared with 85 per cent control under the present system. But a large number of parents are alarmed at the prospect and feel the whole thing has been rushed through without adequate discussion. The school, they say, is being 'torn apart' in the process.

The first parents heard about the possibility of the school opting out was a letter from the governors in November last year saying that 'although there is a strong case for opting for grant-maintained status, in the present climate of political and economic uncertainty reflected among the views of our excellent staff, we have concluded that this is not the moment to ask parents to make such an important decision'.

A month later the governors wrote again to announce that a ballot would take place early in the new year. One of their number, Steve Buckel - acting as a parent - had helped to organise a petition of parents demanding a ballot. Signatures of 20 per cent of parents are needed to bring about a ballot, and Mr Buckel and his supporters obtained those of 821 out of about 1,800.

Mr Tuffnell said: 'This petition was organised without the governing body's knowledge or consent, and we would prefer it hadn't happened. We would rather have taken more time over this decision. It was very evident that people wanted longer to reflect.'

He said that he was very concerned about the bad feeling the ballot had generated, but argued that the procedure for opting out was flawed and partly to blame for the divisiveness.

Once the petition had been handed in, angry meetings with parents followed: one organised by the governors and one by the hastily-convened parents' group Concerned Over Opting Out. Mr Buckel accuses the parents' group of being in league with 'flying agitators' and the National Union of Teachers, which has contributed money to their 'If in doubt, don't opt out' campaign.

Objections that have been raised to opting out include financial uncertainty, lack of local government accountability if things go wrong, doubts over the governors' competence and the fact that so many parents seem confused.

'There's no guarantee there will be more money for the school in the longer term,' Fiona Hall said. 'What happens if we are not happy? Are we going to ring up Mr Patten and is he going to come on the phone 10 minutes later? Of course not,' Margot Redwood said.

These parents say they are very happy with the school, and praise its music, art, science and computer facilities. Other parents feel differently, however. In the national league tables of examination results, published last November, the school was just below average, with 34 per cent of pupils achieving five or more GCSE grades A-C, and some would like to see an improvement.

Lynn Witheridge, a parent who supports opting out but believes it has been 'badly handled' by the school, said: 'Although the school encourages lots of 'caring and sharing', standards are not very high educationally. Opting out will raise this issue with the governors.'

She also complained about the school's 'little tin huts' - a series of temporary buildings which the headmaster and governing body hope can be replaced by a permanent building, if the school opts out, with money from the Government's capital expenditure fund. East Sussex council has recently pledged pounds 390,000 for this purpose, but David Taylor, chairman of the governors, said about pounds 2m would be needed.

Teachers at Blatchington Mill are unenthusiastic; in an autumn ballot of teaching and ancillary staff, 90 per cent voted against, although they have no direct influence on the decision. One teacher said the ballot had caused 'uneasiness and depression' in the school. 'We are known as a good school in the area and we are managing OK. I don't see what we are going to gain by opting out.'

The heads of 12 primary schools in the area have supported the teachers by signing a statement expressing their concerns. 'If Blatchington Mill opts out it will receive 15 per cent of its budget from the central money which provides services to schools. If one school gets more, others get less,' it says.

There is great anxiety in both camps as to how the 'silent majority' - those parents who have neither signed petitions nor joined campaigns - will vote. As Tony Walton, a parent against opting out, put it: 'I'm worried that a lot of parents will vote in favour of opting out because they think it will put Blatchington Mill a cut above other schools. We just can't predict the result.'

(Photograph omitted)

Sport
World Cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Sport
Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker during Hansen's final broadcast
Sport
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?