Charities vie for academies

21st October 2005 at 01:00
School in the Education Secretary's constituency is to reopen as pound;25m academy, but three other projects face rougher ride

Christian charities have revealed plans to sponsor another four academies - including one in the Education Secretary's constituency.

The Withins school in Bolton - Ruth Kelly's constituency - which came out of special measures nine months ago, is expected to be closed and reopened in a pound;25 million academy project.

It is to be sponsored by Toc H, a charity originally set up during the First World War, to provide support for soldiers. The school will become an academy catering for pupils from age three to 19.

It will offer a nursery, a primary and an 11-19 secondary school. A secondary special school is also to be moved to the same site. Two local primaries will close to make way for the scheme.

More than a third of pupils at the Withins, which serves Bolton's Breighmet estate, are entitled to free school meals and its buildings are said to be very poor.

It was put into special measures in 2003, but inspectors removed it from the category earlier this year, describing the new headteacher as demonstrating "determined leadership". The teaching and learning at the school was said to be mainly satisfactory and sometimes good or very good.

Meanwhile, a Labour council is attempting to stop Sir Peter Vardy, a leading academy sponsor, from building up to three of the new schools in his home town.

Sunderland council, which has its own plans to sponsor three new academies, has fallen out with Sir Peter, the evangelical Christian car dealer, and it appears, the Department for Education and Skills, about its proposals.

Council papers reveal Sunderland reluctantly agreed to apply for academies this summer, after the DfES said that a pound;95m council bid for government cash to rebuild its secondaries would be rejected without academy proposals.

The council has now put forward plans to jointly sponsor up to three new academies, investing pound;1m in each, with sponsors matching this contribution. The academies are also being asked to sign agreements on working with the local authority on admissions, special needs and joint sixth-form provision.

However, the DfES appears unhappy with this arrangement. Sir Bruce Liddington, of the department's academies division, said that the LEA's involvement in the new scheme could lead to "inefficiency and ineffectiveness".

The council has discussed sponsorship with Sir Peter, but failed to reach agreement because the millionaire wants the new academies to have sixth forms.

A DfES spokesman said: "Sunderland is consulting locally on its secondary school strategy including the role of academies. We are in discussions with Sunderland LEA."

A Sunderland council spokeswoman said: "We are aware of the Vardy Foundation interest in academies, but have developed a model for Sunderland which is the subject of consultation."


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