Letter: Questionable arguments in support of opted-out schools

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Sir: It appears that the 'impatient desire for improvements in our education system' felt by parents and teachers is not being met through schools opting out. The evidence from the two reports on grant-maintained schools does not lead rationally to the conclusion that 'the Government should intervene to push a sizeable majority into taking the plunge' (leading article, 31 March).

Instead, it suggests the need to put aside dogmatic policies and take a serious look at recent work - much of it supported by LEAs - on school effectiveness, parental partnerships and other issues related to quality of provision rather than its organisation.

The additional funding and other support enjoyed by these early grant- maintained schools can only diminish greatly if their number increases. In the absence of any significant improvement in three years, what basis exists for extending the experiment at all, let alone forcibly? (Incidentally, will Government plans for 'failing schools' allow them so long to show such little change?)

School autonomy is increasingly extending to all schools through Local Management of Schools but, all too often, is accompanied by budget cuts and consequently reduced morale - which inhibit innovation even more than the decreasing incidence of 'ossified council bureaucracy'.

Government policy seeks to squeeze 'more for less' from the system through competition within a market environment. Many schools - apparently the large majority - still value a co-operative arrangement within a framework planned to meet the needs of all children. This approach, within democratically accountable LEAs, appears to be matching the gradual improvement achieved by the grant-maintained sector, despite its unsustainable financial advantages.

Looking back at the development that followed the 1944 Act, one is bound to ask what might be possible today if only some attempt were made to harness the forces of consensus - and to wonder if any worthwhile progress can ever be achieved unless it is. In the meantime, parents faced with a decision on opting out would be well advised to exercise the caution suggested on your Education page (1 April).

Yours faithfully,


Local Schools Information

London, EC1

1 April