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Gove in free-school talks with top football clubs

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Gove in free-school talks with top football clubs

Three leading Premier League football clubs are planning to shift their focus from results on the pitch to results in the classroom by opening their own free schools.

Manchester City, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur have all held talks with officials at the Department for Education about establishing one of the new breed of schools.

Education secretary Michael Gove personally met representatives from Manchester City and Everton in a bid to promote the policy.

The TES understands that the clubs hope to create the schools to sit alongside their existing youth development programmes, allowing them to have greater involvement in the education of their top young players.

However, they would not be allowed to open schools solely for the use of their own players, with the rules demanding that free schools be open to pupils of all abilities.

The show of interest from the three clubs follows a statement from Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore last year that he could envisage schools being run by the league.

However, it is individual clubs that have made the running with the policy. Everton confirmed it is currently engaged in "confidential" negotiations with the DfE and officials from Manchester City and the Department are due to meet for a second time later this month following positive talks late last year.

Tottenham officials held a meeting with schools minister Lord Hill late last year, and the club told The TES it was still interested in setting up its own free school, which would primarily be targeted at youngsters on its youth development scheme.

However, the plans would depend on Tottenham pressing ahead with its planned new 56,000-seat stadium at Northumberland Park, next to the club's current home at White Hart Lane.

A Premier League spokesman said: "We are supportive of clubs getting involved in the free schools programme.

"All our clubs have education as a key element of the work they deliver in their communities. Alongside this, they work closely with local schools and colleges on ensuring their talented young players gain a thorough education alongside the coaching they receive."

Martyn Johnson, vice-principal of Woodside High School, which is located on White Hart Lane, close to Tottenham's ground, said the club ran a successful outreach programme - Spurs Learning Zone - with a number of schools.

But Mr Johnson said he would be concerned about clubs opening schools. "A football club is subject to its shareholders and that would be a concern to me," he said.

Mr Johnson added: "If it got taken over by another business that did not value the role of free schools, where would it leave them?"

He said that plans for a new school would have to take into careful consideration the impact on existing schools in the area.

A DfE spokesman said: "We welcome applications from all groups, including football clubs, wishing to set up free schools."

But he refused to confirm whether any of the clubs had submitted an application by the 1 June deadline for free schools that are looking to open in September 2012.

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