Curtain comes down on academy philanthropists flying solo

30th October 2009 at 00:00
Go-it-alone business tycoons must be paired with experienced co-sponsors under new rules

They were hailed by politicians as pioneers who would turn around underperforming schools with their entrepreneurial spirit.

But the days of tycoons being allowed to sponsor new academies on their own will end under controversial plans announced by the Government.

Any individual, charity or business that does not have first-hand educational experience will be barred from becoming the sole sponsor of an academy.

Instead, they will be forced to have a co-sponsor or partner that can demonstrate a track record of improving schools.

Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, insists the development, part of an accreditation scheme for sponsors, will lead to the selection of the "best possible" providers.

But it marks a fundamental shift away from the original academies policy, which argued that outside organisations were needed to inject a fresh ethos into poorly performing schools.

Early backers from the world of business included: courier magnate Sir Clive Bourne, sponsor of the highly successful Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, east London; Sir David Garrard, a retired property developer who backed Bexley Business Academy, Kent; and Lord Harris, former chairman of Carpetright, who sponsors a chain of nine academies in south London.

Sponsors who now have school improvement experience will be allowed to back more academies in future.

But Michael Gove, shadow schools secretary, said: "This is an explicit attempt to reduce the number of sponsors in an effort to thwart the scheme.

"If this rule was in force when the programme started, children from deprived backgrounds from across the country would not have got the extra educational opportunities that their academies have provided them with."

The decision to stop sole sponsorship by organisations without educational expertise is part of a general shift in recent years whereby the Government has encouraged more schools and universities to back the academies programme. Increasing numbers of local authorities are also now acting as co-sponsors.

But Philip O'Hear, the first principal of Capital City Academy in Willesden, north-west London, which was sponsored by advertising millionaire Sir Frank Lowe, said the new rules could put entrepreneurs off getting involved.

"This would have blocked a lot of the original sponsors who recognised they had been successful and lucky in their own lives and felt duty bound to put something back," said Mr O'Hear.

David Ross, co-founder of Carphone Warehouse and sole sponsor of Havelock Academy in Grimsby, said his school had benefited from having links with independent Uppingham School in Leicestershire.

"I can understand why the Government might say that having an educational partner might be helpful," he said. "I can't argue with it because that's what we did.

"If you want to have a successful academy then clearly being an impatient entrepreneur who is keen to achieve is an asset, but you need an educational partner to fall back on."

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said sponsors from all backgrounds would continue to contribute to academies.

"New sponsors without a direct education background will still have the opportunity to become lead sponsors, but we want educational partners or co-sponsors to continue to support them," he said.

Analysis, pages 20-21.

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