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Ministers 'misled' public on academies

Hundreds of millions spent replacing schools that were not failing.

Not one of the 28 schools replaced by academies was in special measures at the time of closure, despite ministers' insistence that the pound;5 billion academies scheme is tackling educational failure.

This summer, Jacqui Smith, the schools minister, said that academies were making solid progress given that they had replaced "failing schools". James Purnell, minister for creative industries and tourism, wrote last month:

"City academies ... are an attempt to solve the most enduring problem of British politics, failing schools."

Yet none of the secondaries that were closed to become academies was failing and only two had serious weaknesses, an analysis by The TES reveals.

Three highly successful city technology colleges have been turned into academies, receiving a total of pound;24 million of taxpayers' money for refurbishment.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, has said he wants all failing schools, unless they can show they are making "serious progress", to become academies.

The TES has also discovered that local authorities have footed bills of up to pound;1.9m to wipe out the debts of secondaries before they were turned into academies. Thirteen of the replaced schools had total debts of nearly Pounds 5.9m.

A former beacon school, St Paul's secondary in Greenwich, south London, closed this month. It and nearby Abbey Wood comprehensive, whose last inspection also said it was effective, are being replaced by an academy catering mainly for Catholic pupils.

Two of the new schools - Macmillan academy, Middlesbrough, and Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham college academy, south London - are former leading edge schools which together have received pound;20m for refurbishment.

Another school which closed this summer, Canon Williamson high in Salford, was England's 80th most improved school last year.

A 2001 Ofsted report on Malory school in south London, which closed this summer, said: "This is an improving school which copes extremely well in challenging circumstances. It is a good school."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"The Government needs to be more honest. If schools being turned into academies are not failing schools, they should not be painted as such."

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Ed Davey said: "This research suggests ministers have been at best economical with the truth, and at worst totally misleading."

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said that most of the closed secondaries had been judged to be failing, in serious weaknesses or of concern to inspectors when closure decisions were taken. Former CTCs which received funding to become academies had to work closely with local schools, he said.

He added: "Parents aren't interested in semantics; what they want is a good local school. That is what academies are providing."

News 4, Another voice 22

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