Opt-out rejected by 'misled' parents

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(First Edition)

PARENTS who claimed they had been misled conned into supporting an opt-out ballot at their school have rejected the idea with a resounding record 'no' vote against the move.

Just five parents at Willingham County Primary School in Cambridgeshire were in favour of becoming a self-governing school, representing one per cent of the total vote.

The ballot was called after 20 per cent of parents at the school signed a petition calling for a vote a move which forces the school's governors to act. Several of these 65 parents later asked to have their names withdrawn from it but they were unsuccessful.

Parents Opposed to Opting Out, a national pressure group, said yesterday that the petitioners were told the move would stop bullying and that it would win an increase in funding for the school. Schools used to gain a cash advantage when they opted out, but this was abolished five months ago.

Rebecca Buncombe, who helped set up a local group to stop the school opting out, said 29 parents had tried to withdraw their names from the petition. Most had signed it in the mistaken belief that it was simply meant to generate discussion rather than to force a ballot on the school.

'They would not have signed if they had known a ballot had then to take place. The first thing many of us knew about this was when a letter came from the chair of governors saying a valid petition had been received and so there had to be a ballot,' she said.

The school's governors advised parents to vote against opting out on the grounds that the ballot had been pushed through too rapidly, and its staff were also against the move.

The ballot result, released yesterday, revealed that 361 parents had voted against leaving the control of the local authority, compared with five 5 who had voted in favour.

Alan Dean, the head teacher, said: 'Such a large proportion of the parent body voting 'no' really does demonstrate that parents, governors and staff are of a similar opinion. The governors in particular felt that they hadn't had time to research the important issues involved.'

Steve Arnold, the parent governor who supported the petition, was not available for comment yesterday.

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