Academy sponsor in talks to sever support

Move would be the first withdrawal and leaves the struggling Middlesbrough school's future in doubt

David Marley & William Stewart

A sponsor of an academy has opened talks with the Government about quitting the school, which would be the first time a backer has abandoned the programme.

Amey, a major services consultancy, is keen to walk away from the Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough, which has a troubled history of low results and poor pupil behaviour, The TES can reveal.

If ties between the company and the school, which opened in 2002, are severed, it would prove a significant embarrassment to the Government, which has touted the input of sponsors as key to turning around school standards, and leave the status of the academy uncertain.

Robert Dore, the academy's principal, said: "This situation has never occurred before, so if it goes ahead, we don't know what it will mean for the school. We are waiting to be informed about what will happen.

"I am extremely concerned, but we will not let it affect the pupils here, who have made tremendous progress."

Mr Dore thanked Amey for their contribution, but added: "The governors are now keen to move on from this and build on the work that has been undertaken."

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families confirmed they were in discussion with Amey, but said they had no other comment.

Following a visit in September, Ofsted inspectors said the school was making good progress towards improving standards. However, this year 12 per cent of its GCSE candidates achieved five good grades including in English and maths, and the school is in the National Challenge programme, which has threatened low performing schools with closure.

The academy has been dogged by problems from the start. In its first two years it was criticised for expelling large numbers of disruptive pupils and suffered low exam results. By the end of 2004, Eddie Brady, the first head, had resigned, and by the following May it emerged that the school had racked up a pound;1.5 million overspend. Later that summer the academy was placed in special measures

In 2006, behaviour had deteriorated to the point where pupils were hurling chairs from balconies and police had to be called to deal with assaults.

Ofsted inspectors said pupils did not feel safe or secure and they witnessed pupils shouting, swearing and vandalising the building.

By last year discipline had improved, and the academy came out of special measures in May 2007. However, 54 teachers were in dispute with management over having to submit lesson plans.

Academy sponsors have been on edge this week following the departure of Lord Adonis from the DCSF to take up a position in the Department of Transport.

There have also been recent concerns raised over the possibility of finding new sponsors for academies from the commercial sector as the global credit crunch deepens.

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David Marley & William Stewart

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