Blair's billions for super schools

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
PM orders sceptical Clarke to splash out on 200 gleaming new academies

The Prime Minister has won a battle with his Education Secretary over the expansion of academies, leaving Charles Clarke facing a pound;5 billion bill for the controversial super state schools, The TES can reveal.

Mr Clarke lost his fight against the creation of 200 costly academies, which he will announce next week as part of Labour's five-year education plan. While Tony Blair and adviser Andrew Adonis backed the glossy new tier of secondaries, independent of council control, Mr Clarke said the Government should focus funds on raising standards across the board.

Downing Street's victory comes amid growing concern about whether the pound;8.5bn extra promised for education by 2008 will be enough to achieve the Government's goals while meeting rising school costs.

Chancellor Gordon Brown has said that early years and skills education will be priorities in the next three-year funding period.

The plans to have 200 academies in development by 200910 will worry unions and councils. If the schools get the same funding for new buildings as previous academies the total will exceed pound;5bn.

The TES recently revealed that the first 17 academies cost an average of more than pound;26 million each, a total of pound;425m - two-and-a-half-times the amount budgeted.

Personalised learning, another key element of the five-year strategy, will also cost billions per year to implement, according to a leading think-tank.

Philip Collins, director of the Social Market Foundation, said up to pound;5bn for infrastructure and a lower pupil-teacher ratio would be needed to tailor learning to individual pupils.

Fears are also growing that the Department for Education and Skills is struggling to fulfil its pledge of providing every secondary with "21st-century facilities" in the next 10 to 15 years.

The Government has won praise for its efforts to tackle the massive backlog of school repairs it inherited from the Conservatives.

Capital spending has risen tenfold since Labour came to power.

But ministers are concerned that its Building Schools for the Future strategy is proving more expensive than expected. Earlier this year, they asked consultants KPMG to examine the affordability of the project.

The DfES denied reports of a rift between education ministers and Number 10 over academies. It also denied there were concerns about the cost of academies and said they would not have been included in the five-year plan if it were not viable.

But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Creating a large number of academies will reduce the funding available to other schools."

Ministers hope independent schools and firms that manage them will sponsor academies, which must raise at least pound;2m of private investment.

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