Academies 'strangled by poor builders'

The academies programme is being "strangled" by firms making a swift profit out of building the schools but performing poorly, a sponsor has warned ministers.

Sally Ritchie, co-ordinator of the Aldridge Foundation, which is sponsoring two academies yet to open in Falmer, near Brighton, and Darwen in Lancashire, demanded that the Government put more resources into improving the management of building projects.

She told Lord Adonis, the junior schools minister, that one of the foundation's projects had been among the longest academies in development.

"It has been quite strangling working with, quite honestly, some very poor companies around this that are making a lot of money out of the system," she said at a Centre Forum think tank last week.

The Aldridge Foundation was set up by Rod Aldridge who made millions from Capita, the support services firm he founded that won several major education-related government contracts.

Mr Aldridge told The TES his problem had been finding project managers with the right expertise.

"You have got project managers for architecture, the legal side, catering, technology - that is quite an industry," he said.

"The companies are spread too thin. Perhaps the market has not caught up yet with the resources needed. I think the Government could do more to stimulate it."

Mr Aldridge is frustrated by the time taken to open his two academies. He believes the sponsor's role in ensuring the projects progress is more difficult and time consuming than is often portrayed.

He said the Falmer academy would have been five years in development before its first phase opened in September.

Mr Aldridge also said the Darwen project had been "unduly protracted". He became sponsor in 2004. Although it will open in September, the new building will not be ready until 2010.

Lord Adonis told Ms Ritchie to take up her concerns with Partnerships for Schools, the agency responsible for school building.

A spokeswoman for the agency said Partnerships for Schools was working with the Aldridge Foundation to address the issues.

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