Fears grow over power of academy sponsors

Just how accountable will the new replacements for failing inner-city schools be? Karen Thornton reports

CONCERNS are being voiced about the accountability of new city academies set up to replace failing inner-city schools as sponsors appoint the majority of governors.

Eight of the 13 governors at Capital city academy in Brent, north London - due to replace Willesden high school next year - will be appointed by its sponsor, advertising agency boss Sir Frank Lowe.

In maintained state schools, up to a third of governors are elected parents, and a large secondary would normally have two teacher representatives and between two and five LEA members.

Sir Frank will appoint seven sponsor governors plus a local community governor, while parents, teachers and other staff each elect a single representative, with the education authority appointing another member. The headteacher is also a governor, and the new board can appoint up to three more "co-opted" members.

Chris Keates, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "These schools are run by businesses and we have concerns about their accountability.

"It is state funding with no democratic accountability and that ought to be a concern to local taxpayers."

Alan Carter, acting secretary of the Association of Brent Governors, said:

"I do not oppose anyone offering to put money into a school, but I object to someone with no educational background putting up a small percentage of the costs and having a school to play with."

Ministers want to replace failing inner-city schools with 33 academies by 2006. Business, faith or voluntary-sector sponsors are investing pound;2 million in each of the new schools.

But the remaining capital funding and all the academies' running costs will be paid for by taxpayers.

Three academies open this autumn - the Bexley business academy in Kent, Greig city academy in the London borough of Haringey and Unity city academy in Middlesbrough East.

Unity city academy will hold elections for its parent governor. Eddie Brady, its principal, said: "If you elect two, three or four parent governors, the question you have still got to ask is if they are connecting with other parents. The task for the trust is to find a way to interface with the community."

Sir Frank Lowe was on holiday and unavailable for comment. However, a Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said: "City academies are fully accountable to their local community and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise."

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you