One of the most deeply controversial reforms enshrined in the Education Reform Act 1988 was the establishment in England and Wales of a new category of maintained schools, known as grant maintained schools, inde-pendent of local education authority (LEA) control and funded directly by central government grants. Parallel legislation has been enacted for Scotland under the Self-Governing Schools, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1989, though the discussion in this chapter will focus on England and Wales. The Government’s main justification for the creation of this new category of school, as spelled out in its 1987 consultation paper,2 has been largely in terms of the promotion of the autonomy of schools from the strictures of LEA control and, in some cases, allegedly unwelcome curricular pressure (though the evidence for the latter was extremely slight); the opportunity for governors to run their schools as individual institutions with their own identifiable ethos and spirit; the responsiveness of schools to parental wishes and thus the enhancement of accountability on the part of the direct providers of educational services (teachers) through the school’s governors to the consumers (parents), leading to greater efficiency, cost-effectiveness and higher standards; and the enhancement of parental choice of school through increasing the diversity of provision of schools within the maintained sector and hence expanding the scope for the operation of market forces in this context. It is, however, worthy of note that there is a major overlap between some of these justifications-notably autonomy, parental involvement and accountability-and those given for the provisions of the Education Reform Act concerning open enrolment and delegated financial management. This would appear to raise an implicit assumption that the new policies of open enrolment and delegated management would not go far enough to achieve these goals: hence the need for a new category of school free even from the residual powers of control and influence remaining to LEAs following implementation of the 1988 Act. There may well, however, have been a more fundamental underlying purpose behind the government’s opting out proposals, namely the determination further to erode local authority functions in respect of education through the destruction of the LEA monopoly over the provision of maintained schools, this being consistent with the government’s approach to central-local relations over a wide spectrum of governmental functions. The extent of this erosion will depend largely upon the scale of opting out: Baroness Margaret Thatcher spoke of her vision of opting out on a substantial scale. It remains to be seen whether Baroness Thatcher’s vision was accurate, but in the early period before the general election of April 1992 the movement towards grant maintained status was undoubtedly slow, the majority of proposals having

come predictably from schools threatened by unwelcome closure, amalgamation or other structural proposals. By May 1992, 217 schools were already operating as grant maintained schools in England, 33 had been approved but were not yet in operation, and five were close to ministerial approval.3 But it is likely that there were many schools waiting in the wings, content to observe the initial fortunes of the early grant maintained schools or preferring to await the outcome of the general election, before themselves taking positive steps towards opting out. The return of the Conservative government to power in 1992 will undoubtedly add considerable impetus to the opting out movement, and this was perhaps the most important element in the government’s White Paper of July 1992, ‘Choice and Diversity: a New Framework for Schools’.4 This projected that there could be over 1,500 grant maintained schools by April 1994, and that by 1996 most of the 3,900 maintained secondary schools, as well as a significant proportion of the 19,000 maintained primary schools, could be grant maintained.5