Arms firms roll in to trust schools

7th July 2006 at 01:00
Minister wants weapons makers and armed forces to sponsor new breed of state school, reports William Stewart

Defence companies and the armed forces could play a role in running new trust schools, a minister said this week.

Jim Knight, schools minister, said he believed that military involvement in the new independent state sector could help make schools with many children of Forces families "more sympathetic" to their needs.

He also contradicted the Government's own proposed new admissions code by suggesting that such schools could use trust status to give priority to Forces children. When this discrepancy - the code forbids schools from discriminating between children on the basis of their parents' occupation - was pointed out, a Department for Education and Skills spokesman said thinking was "at an early stage".

Around 90,000 children of servicemen and women attend UK state schools, with the highest concentrations in garrison or naval towns such as Aldershot, Salisbury and Portsmouth.

VT Group, a Hampshire-based warship builder that also owns an education business, has told The TES it would consider becoming involved in trust schools.

But the idea of the defence industry having a major say in how pupils are educated is likely to inflame opposition to the education bill, which entered the House of Lords committee stage this week.

The legislation will enable the setting up of trust schools - semi-independent state-funded institutions that could be run by external organisations and will control their admissions, assets and staff. Its opponents are already calling for tougher safeguards to prevent the involvement of unsuitable organisations and individuals in the trusts.

Speaking at a Commons defence select committee hearing on educating service children, Mr Knight suggested trust status could be used to directly involve the armed forces in schools with concentrations of service children, to change their ethos and admissions to suit such pupils. "In respect of the education of Forces' children we have seen the setting up of independent schools with a very strong ethos largely for officers'

children," the minister said. "Would it not be nice to extend that to the maintained sector so that the children of lower ranks also had those opportunities?"

Asked whether the defence industry could also become involved in such trusts, Mr Knight said: "One can conceivably have a partnership between the armed forces and defence companies."

Mary Bousted, Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary, said: "The idea that defence companies should be involved in education which is supposed to be an affirmation of human life is abhorrent."

* william.stewart@tes.co.uk

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