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Academy boom time

Ministers plough ahead with expansion of scheme despite charges they are exaggerating its success.

The number of privately-sponsored academies will soar next month - yet not one will replace a failing comprehensive, The TES can reveal.

Eighteen of the so-called "super schools" will open in September, twice as many as the same time last year, heralding the biggest expansion of the controversial programme so far.

The Government says that academies will tackle the legacy of educational failure in the inner cities. Yet a TES analysis reveals that many of the schools being replaced by them have won praise recently from Ofsted.

Inspectors said one had "outstanding features" while another had "ambitious vision".

The expansion comes as the principal of one academy accused the Government of exaggerating the programme's early successes. "It is far too soon to tell whether results have improved," he said. "Academies need more time to work. The problem is that ministers want to rush into making claims that are not very helpful."

His comments followed the release of an independent report, which shows that, although the schools are hugely popular with parents, their academic progress remains questionable.

The 18 academies due to open in September bring the total to 45, almost a quarter of the Government's target of 200 by 2010.

Sponsors running schools for the first time include Jack Petchey, a millionaire property developer who recently acquired 200 pubs, John Madejski, chairman of Reading FC, and Bob Edmiston, founder of the IM Group and the charity Christian Vision.

Last week ministers announced new measures to make it easier for firms to sponsor academies, which are independent of local authority control. Under the new rules, the sponsor's investment - normally pound;2 million - will be made over a longer period and spent on education innovation, rather than on an upfront payment for new buildings.

This week it has emerged that Nottingham's Djanogly academy - one of the first to open, in 2003 - could host a new dance academy for more than 100 students, which would be unique among city state schools in the UK.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We make no apology for taking action to ensure that local children can receive the best education possible. Academies are replacing schools which have often failed pupils for generations.

"The majority of schools being replaced with academies had been in special measures, had serious weaknesses or were of concern to inspectors at the point that the decision to close them was made."

But the TES analysis raises further questions about whether the cost of academies - some pound;30m is spent on each - is justified.

The research shows that many schools were performing well prior to becoming academies, although they had suffered from a lack of investment.

Only three were in special measures at the turn of the year, and all improved this year, although two were still under "notice to improve" when they closed.

Others were praised by Ofsted. Last year, it said Waverley girls' school, Southwark, south London, which will become an academy sponsored by Lord Harris, the carpet magnate, was "effective with outstanding features".

Last year The TES revealed that none of the schools replaced by the first 27 academies was failing.

graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

News 6, Leader 14

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