Christian charity expands inner-city empire

TO sponsor one city academy may seem like a charitable gesture. To sponsor three, as the Church Schools Company has done, starts to look like empire building.

The Christian educational charity founded in 1883 is now the scheme's largest single sponsor having pledged more than pound;4.5 million to create academies in south London, Manchester and Northampton. This is just the start, according to the company's chief executive Ewan Harper, who wants to sponsor five more of the publicly-funded but privately-run secondary schools.

He believes this would "balance out" the charity's existing portfolio of eight fee-paying private schools, which include Surbiton high and Ashford boarding school in Kent.

Mr Harper said: "I think if our founders were alive today they would be looking at the inner cities and deprived rural areas and asking what they could bring to those areas."

The move came about after Mr Harper met Downing Street policy guru Andrew Adonis. "I went to Number 10 and was told a city academy had been announced in Lambeth but the corporate sponsor had dropped out. We were asked if we would be prepared to take it on."

Sponsors must raise up to 20 per cent of the cost of building a new school, or transforming an existing one. The rest, along with day-to-day costs, come from public funds, but sponsors run the academies.

The Church Schools Company's share of the bill for the new Lambeth academy comes to pound;2m - but the cash is not coming from its own funds. Various wealthy private trusts have pledged more than pound;1m and some parents have made donations.

Mr Harper has been stung by criticism about Ducie high school, Manchester, set to become the Moss Side city academy, co-sponsored by the Church Schools Company and Manchester Science Park. Staff have written to parents complaining that the company's existing schools are in "predominantly white middle class areas" and therefore it has no experience of working with black and Asian communities.

Mr Harper said: "Admission will be open to anyone. There will be no faith qualification at all. We are not out to evangelise."

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