There are currently 928 such schools in operation (Department for Education figures, 7 June). John Patten is almost alone in believing the number will grow to 2,000 by the next general election. The 1993 Education Act requirement that governing bodies discuss the issue has produced a 98 per cent rejection rate; and among the much smaller number of ballots now taking place, parents are voting 'no' in a majority of cases.
There is now a greater awareness of the damage caused to schools by the division and bitterness that often surrounds opt-
out debates. Recent evidence of petition signatures being obtained from parents on false pretences has reinforced the atmosphere of sleaze around some pro-opt-out lobbies.
The policy is dead, and it cannot be long before the Government organises a tactical retreat.
Another reason why the policy is dying is that the much-trumpeted 'independence' of grant- maintained schools is more apparent than real. Local management offers local education authority schools all the practical control that grant-maintained schools have, with the extra support of the LEA. All schools must follow the national curriculum. All schools manage their own budget and can use money flexibly. All schools have to have major changes to their size or character approved by central government. All schools have to be accountable for the public money they spend: grant-maintained schools to the Funding Agency for Schools (the national quango); LEA schools to their local education authority.
The first schools to opt out received generous extra funding, but this has been progressively eroded, and the common fund formula now being introduced promises to remove that advantage altogether.
The principles of democracy and equity are features of both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties' education policies. When there is a change of government, grant-maintained schools will disappear. It is only the mechanism to effect change that remains to be determined.
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