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Cash-back for sponsors

Firms connected to private benefactors receive thousands of pounds from academies

Two flagship academies have paid out large sums of money to companies that their private-sector sponsors have major interests in, The TES can reveal.

The payments for a variety of services, show up in the latest published accounts of academies sponsored by Sir Peter Vardy, the Christian fundamentalist car dealer and Alec Reed, chairman of Reed Executive, parent company of one of the country's biggest recruitment agencies.

The accounts reveal that West London academy, Ealing, paid a total of pound;180,964 to businesses and a charity with major connections to Mr Reed. King's academy, Middlesbrough, was billed by organisations and individuals with connections to Sir Peter for pound;290,214, including pound;14,039 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Both the academies, semi-independent, state-funded secondary schools, said that none of the work for these payments had been put out to tender.

Academies, like normal state schools, are expected to obtain at least three quotations before purchases of services.

Academy sponsors do not contribute towards the schools' running costs but have huge influence over how they are run, typically nominating the majority of governors, who have wide-ranging powers over the curriculum, staff pay and conditions and timetables.

The West London academy accounts show that it paid pound;140,030 for personnel services to Reed Charity, chaired by Mr Reed, between May 2002 to August 2003.

Another pound;37,683 was paid to Reed Learning and pound;3,251 to Reed Training, companies for which Mr Reed is a director, "for project management and training services". A spokesman for Mr Reed said the payments were made with Department for Education and Skills' grants and with its approval.

The King's academy accounts show that between April 2002 and August 2003 the school was billed pound;111,554 for "support services such as marketing and recruitment" supplied by car dealers Reg Vardy plc. Sir Peter Vardy, founder of the Vardy Foundation - the academy's main sponsor, is the major shareholder in the dealership.

The school was also billed pound;121,514 for "educational advice" by Emmanuel college, Gateshead, another school sponsored by the Vardy Foundation.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was paid pound;14,039 by King's for time spent on academy work by the association's employee David Vardy, Sir Peter's brother and another academy director.

John Burn, a director of the King's and former head of Emmanuel college, was paid pound;43,107 for educational advice.

A spokeswoman for the foundation, which has attracted controversy for teaching creationist theory at Emmanuel college, said that the payments represented value for money.

The TES investigation into the accounts of the 12 academies reveals that half have yet to receive the full pound;2 million pledged by their sponsors. But the taxpayer's contribution has swelled by nearly pound;40m over the past year to pound;275.7m - an average of pound;23m an academy.

Gwen Evans, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "Academies were supposed to lever private finance into public education, not lever public money into private pockets."

The DfES said: "It is easy to criticise radical steps to break the cycle of educational underachievement. We prefer to get on with giving children in these areas the very best education that we can."

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