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Parents block new Christian academy

Parents who forced a local council to drop plans for a controversial academy sponsored by Christian fundamentalists are offering their help to other campaigners.

Doncaster council last week announced it would not go ahead with a second academy sponsored by Sir Peter Vardy, the evangelical millionaire car dealer, because of local opposition.

Martin Winter, Doncaster mayor, said: "A significant number of the local community, the teachers and the pupils have spoken loud and clear. They do not want it for their children."

As parents celebrated, their spokeswoman Tracy Morton said: "Our message to other communities where academies are planned is don't assume this is a foregone conclusion. Now that people have seen that you can mount a campaign against an academy proposal and win, they can come to us for help in doing the same.

"If it becomes clear there is a lot of activity against academies we would consider setting up a national campaign.

"At the moment there isn't really a national body opposing academies - if there had been we would have gone to it for help."

The Conisbrough and Denaby Parents Action Group led the battle to prevent Northcliffe school from being replaced with the Vardy academy, using a combination of doorstep campaigning and local demonstrations.

It also staged a number of media stunts, including placing Northcliffe for sale on eBay.

The Government wants at least 200 academies in development by 2010 - 17 are already open and next week the Queen is due to open the Lambeth academy in south London.

But the independent state schools have proved highly controversial as they give sponsors a say over pay and conditions and the curriculum. The Vardy Foundation, which sponsors a city technology college in Gateshead, the King's academy, Middlesbrough and the Trinity academy, Doncaster, hit headlines for the teaching of creationism in its schools.

It has set aside funds for another four academies and a spokeswoman said it had been approached by other education authorities in the north of England where discussions were still at an early stage. She confirmed none was being planned in Sunderland or Newcastle, where Sir Peter most wants to open schools, or Leeds.

Meanwhile Northcliffe school remains in special measures, though inspectors say it is on course to come out by December 2005.

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