Opt-out schools in warning to Labour

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Many opt-out schools will go independent under Labour unless the party retains vital principles, an education leader warned. A mass desertion from state education system could include schools such as the London Oratory, to which Labour leader Tony Blair is to send his son. Labour's education spokesman, David Blunkett, has already held some talks with influential grant-maintained school heads on the "local democratic framework" to which they would be prepared to return, and more are due.

While Labour stresses that GM status would go, Mr Blunkett urged local education authorities again at the weekend to adopt a "flexible partnership" with schools. But just how flexible it would have to be to satisfy the schools is made clear in a letter to Mr Blunkett from Sir Robert Balchin, chairman of the Grant Maintained Schools Centre.

Influential heads have acknowledged they would be prepared to compromise on some points - such as allowing local authority representatives on to their governing bodies. But Sir Robert said some questions about Labour policy in his letter were "non-negotiable". These included: would GM schools remain incorporated bodies independent of local education authorities? And would the funding of GM schools be through them?