Firms say no to trust schools

Michael Shaw, Jon Slater & Shafik Meghji

Few firms which sponsor schools are interested in setting up new independent trust schools which are at the centre of the Government's plans to reform education.

And three of the seven organisations ministers say are backing the project do not want to set up trusts for schools themselves.

Trust schools are the most controversial proposal in the education white paper, and rebel Labour back-benchers want to vote them out of legislation due next year.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, said the specialist schools programme, for which private companies have given sponsorship, indicated there was "a big appetite" from business charities to support further reforms.

But a TES poll of 26 of the biggest sponsors of specialist schools revealed only two felt they were likely to be setting up trusts themselves: the Mercers' Company, and another charity which did not wish to be named.

The vast majority, 18, said they were either unlikely to get involved directly or would never do so. These included the Oracle Corporation, Dixons, Asda, O2, the Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC. Six said it was too early to say.

The Department for Education and Skills said at the launch of the white paper that seven organisations were backing the project: KPMG, Microsoft, the Open University, the Mercers' Company, the United Learning Trust, the Church of England and the Peabody Trust. In a separate briefing note for MPs it described them as "potential trust-formers".

However, the Open University, the Peabody Trust and the United Learning Trust told The TES that, while they supported the scheme, they did not plan to set up trusts themselves.

The HSBC bank would also seem a likely contender to create trusts, as it sponsors more than 100 schools in the UK.

But Dame Mary Richardson, chief executive of the HSBC education trust, said: "The trusts are a good opportunity for universities and for livery companies, but I do not think that a bank has the right educational expertise."

Mike Brophy, education director of Business in the Community, said there was a "wariness" among businesses about the proposals. "They've seen other companies get their fingers burned with academies," he said.

Representatives of many school sponsors were today at the final day of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust conference in Birmingham, along with nearly 2,000 heads. Sir Cyril Taylor, SSAT chairman, said he suspected that at least 50 specialist schools could group together in trusts, which can also be established by universities, churches, parents and community groups.

And as the Prime Minister and Ruth Kelly spent this week defending the reforms, there were early signs of concessions. The Government may make the admissions code of practice - which prevents selection by ability except for grammar schools - statutory.

News 16-17 Leader 22

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Michael Shaw, Jon Slater & Shafik Meghji

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