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Quango to control all academies

Semi-independent schools to be placed in the hands of `national' local authority from 2010

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The government is to hand over control of all new academies to a proposed quango originally designed to look after 14- to 19-year-olds, The TES has learnt.

The new body, called the Young People's Learning Agency (YPLA), will come into being in 2010 after the disbanding of the Learning and Skills Council. The body was set up to oversee budgetary control for 14- to 19- year-olds, but it is understood it will now be looking after academies as well.

By placing the existing quasi- independent schools in the hands of the agency, the department is ensuring the quango will effectively become a "national" local authority.

The decision was made by schools minister Jim Knight earlier this year, citing issues over workload for his Whitehall office. In a letter to all academy sponsors, David Russell, deputy director of academies policy, finance and performance, said the eventual expansion of academies to 400 would be too much work for the department.

He emphasised the department would keep control over the decisions relating to the formation of new academies. Only when established would the running of them be handed to the agency.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said it was a move to "keep the heat from the department", adding there were endemic problems with the academy programme.

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: "In light of recent problems with the Oasis Academy in Southampton and the Richard Rose Academy in Cumbria, it doesn't seem to be an issue of who is running the programme but rather how they are sourced, negotiated and, when developed, how they are run.

She added: "Transferring control to an agency isn't going to solve anything - it's just moving the deck chairs on the Titanic."

Two weeks ago, The TES revealed that the Government was forced to act at the Richard Rose Academy after unrest among staff about changes proposed by the then chief executive Peter Noble - the first head with no classroom experience to run a state school - stepped down from his job after parents protested.

But Phillip O'Hear, principal of the Capital City Academy in Willesden, north-west London, believes the change from Whitehall to a quango will have little impact on how academies are run, and should mean a more "streamlined" service.

"It would be difficult for the department to scale up its operations once the number of academies reaches 400," he said.

"The Independent Academies Association will be keeping an eye on things, but I think this will establish an effective mechanism to make sure that funding flows to academies, while other issues are dealt with in an efficient fashion."

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