Hidden away in Hackney Wick, a strikingly average corner of east London largely ignored by all except its residents until the capital won the 2012 Olympic Games, is a small derelict sports club called Eton Manor. The modest cluster of buildings in Villiers Park, on the edge of Hackney Marshes, was built at the end of the 19th century by a group of philanthropic Old Etonians, who wanted to give something to those less privileged than themselves.
Until it closed in 1967, Eton Manor offered poor boys in and around the East End the chance to be taught anything from athletics and boxing to drama and debating. The random acts of kindness by society's upper crust, as seen in Eton Manor, were as much as could be expected when it came to England's elite independent schools becoming involved in the country's poorer neighbourhoods.
Many would argue that little has changed since then; that the glass wall between the independent and state school systems is as impenetrable as it ever has been. But education secretary Michael Gove is eager to change that, to see the two sectors working more closely together, as he believes that within the independent school lies the secret to success. To realise this goal, Mr Gove is looking to his vast and ever-increasing expansion of the academies programme.
Speaking at a conference in May, Mr Gove said independence has made Britain's private schools "the best in the world" and that greater independence for the country's state schools would ensure they became world class as well. Seeing private schools step in to sponsor academies is, in the minister's eyes at least, an opportunity for private schools to lend them their expertise.
It is a move that has long been championed by Labour peer Lord Adonis, who was keen for independent schools to sponsor academies when he helped introduce the new type of school in his role as junior schools minister during Tony Blair's premiership. Giving a lecture for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust in June, Lord Adonis called for every successful private school to step in and sponsor an academy to create state-private school federations.
You can read the full article in the 7 October 2011 issue of TES.
Original headline: Unnatural pairings?