Cut-price academies

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Buy three and get one free, ministers urge private backers.

Warwick Mansell reports.

Private sponsors are being given the opportunity to bankroll the Government's controversial academies at knock-down prices, The TES can reveal.

Philanthropists willing to back a string of the new schools are being offered a "four for the price of three" deal as ministers strive to hit their target of launching 200 academies within five years.

And a new academy which opened in London this month had backing from its church sponsor that amounted to only a tenth of the pound;2 million normally expected of benefactors.

The disclosures give fresh insight into the measures ministers are taking to hit the target of 200 academies either open or in development by 2010.

This week, Tony Blair promised to press on with the academies programme, defending the new schools against critics that include Estelle Morris, the former education secretary, and the TUC.

TUC delegates voted unanimously at their annual conference in Brighton to take steps towards a national campaign of demonstrations against academies.

Sponsors have been told that if they fund more than three academies -privately-sponsored state schools which are independent of local authority control - the "price" per school will be only pound;1.5m, rather than the standard pound;2m.

The revelation came after it emerged that the United Learning Trust, an Anglican charity, is paying only pound;1.5m in sponsorship per school for eight of the 11 academies it plans to open.

The trust sponsored the first three in Manchester, Northampton and south London, for pound;2m each, said Eleanor Sturdy, the trust's development director. The figure for the others was pound;1.5m.

Mrs Sturdy said that Neil Flint, head of academies at the Department for Education and Skills, told sponsors of the new arrangements "a few months ago". The DfES confirmed the new rules.

The TES has obtained documents showing the trust promising to invest Pounds 1.5m in sponsorship for each of two academies in Sheffield. The documents show that sponsors of other schools were pledging the full pound;2m.

Other documents have revealed that the archdiocese of Southwark will have to pay only pound;200,000 to sponsor St Paul's academy, a new school which opened in Greenwich, south London, this month.

The academy, currently on the site of St Paul's Catholic secondary, will move in 2007 to new buildings on playing fields at nearby Abbey Wood comprehensive, the school it is to replace.

Greenwich council is to sell the St Paul's site in 2007 and give pound;1.8m of the proceeds to the archdiocese so that it can meet its pound;2m contribution to the academy.

Sue Harry, head of Abbey Wood school, said: "The land on which St Paul's stands belongs to the council. But it is being sold to benefit not just council tax payers, but a particular group who will be able to attend the new academy. I'm speechless."

But Mike Bright, Greenwich's assistant director of education, said the move was good value for money for council tax payers, and that 70 per cent of places at the school will be for Catholics.

Last year, the Schools Adjudicator rejected a challenge to replace Abbey Wood school with St Paul's academy, despite receiving 1,126 letters about the plans, 1,122 of which were objections.

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