Academy teething troubles

Flagship pound;13m school resorts to supermarket flyers in struggle to attract pupils. Warwick Mansell reports

A pound;13 million new school, which opened last week as a flagship for the Government's inner-city education reforms, has been forced to launch an advertising campaign for pupils.

The Greig city academy in Haringey, north London, was distributing leaflets outside Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer just days before its official opening last Friday. It also put 16,000 leaflets through letter-boxes and hired a man to walk through Haringey wearing an electronic display board.

The Church of England school, specialising in technology, is one of the new breed of state-funded independent schools aimed at transforming urban education. It has been set up with pound;11m from the Department for Education and Skills, pound;1.5m sponsorship from the local Greig Trust charity and pound;500,000 from the Church.

The leaflets urged parents wishing to enter their children for Year 7 to attend two open evenings last week. The school has a capacity of 215 pupils in Year 7 but is thought to be well short of that.

The move is the latest controversy to hit the school, whose planned opening as First City Academy last year was delayed after technical objections were raised by the Charities Commission.

Tom Peryer, chair of the governors at Greig, said the shortfall in pupils was due to the troubled history of the school it replaces.

Greig, officially blessed last week by the Bishop of London Richard Chartres, is one of three academies opening this term. Each will be set up with at least pound;10m Government funding and pound;2m private sponsorship. The schools are free to vary teachers' pay and conditions and extend the school day. Unity city academy, Middlesbrough, sponsored by business support firm Amey, is being opened today by schools minister David Miliband.

And junior minister Stephen Twigg visited Bexley business academy, Kent, on its first day of term. The school, designed by SirNorman Foster, plans to expand to include a primary and nursery on the same premises (see story below). A total of 33 academies are planned in the next four years.

City academies have faced intense scrutiny from unions over their freedom to opt out of national pay and conditions agreements. The Government wants them to pilot measures such as extending the school day. But several have been forced to offer teachers standard contracts following pressure from local union branches.

And the Secondary Heads Association said this week that city academies would make life difficult for local schools. They would cream off pupils from "aspirational" families and good teachers at the expense of other secondaries.

Kate Griffin, the association's new president and head of Greenford high school in Ealing, west London, also criticised the Government's plans for a five-tier "ladder" of secondary schools. She fears this will lead to a "multi-tier" hierarchy of schools.

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