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Pathfinder trusts get the green light

Ministers are pushing ahead with their controversial trust school plans, even though the legislation needed for the scheme is months away from being passed by Parliament.

The Department for Education and Skills is considering proposals for between 20 to 30 pathfinder trusts with bids due by the end of June.

The successful schools are expected to begin preparatory work in the autumn, start the legal change in status after November, when the Education Bill is expected to become law, and become trust schools by next spring.

The pathfinders will trial a variety of models. As many as 50 schools are likely to be involved, as some trusts may include more than one school.

The setting up of trust schools in the Bill prompted a large backbench Labour rebellion and needed Conservative support to get it through the Commons earlier this year.

Trust schools will control their own admissions, staff and assets in the same way as foundation schools. But they have come in for criticism as external organisations such as private businesses, charities or universities will be able to control them.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, said hundreds of schools were interested in acquiring the status.

"The difficulty is going to be knowing which ones to use for the pathfinders," he said. "There has been a complete misunderstanding of the trust school initiative. It is not about privatising state schools, rather we see it as a way of encouraging collaboration."

Last week, he had asked a meeting of heads of 130 schools with high value-added scores whether they were interested in using trust status to work with under-performing schools, and virtually all had said yes. Sir Cyril also revealed that his organisation was keen to bring trust schools under its remit in the same way that it had done with academies and was in discussions with the DfES about the possibility.

Monkseaton community high, Whitley Bay, has applied for trust status, with computer giant Microsoft and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust as partners. Abbs Cross school, in the London borough of Havering, is considering forming a trust with three other local secondaries to deliver the new 14-19 curriculum. Colne community school in Brightlingsea, Essex, is applying to become a pathfinder. Terry Creissen, Colne's head, said he was exploring different models involving collaboration with state schools.

John Dunford, Association of Schools and Colleges general secretary, said:

"I think we will find that most of the interest is expressed by groups of schools wishing to sustain collaboration, which is something we support."

Melvyn Kershaw, head of Haybridge school, Worcestershire, said he was meeting with heads of six other local secondaries in the next two weeks to decide whether to form a trust to deliver the new 14-19 curriculum.

The schools are not applying for pathfinder status and do not expect to form a trust until September 2007 at the earliest.

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