Doubts of man who inspired PM

24th February 2006 at 00:00
A headteacher who helped inspire Tony Blair's vision of trust schools is worried about the influence they could give outside organisations over schools.

Legally, trust schools will simply be foundation schools with their own foundations or charitable trusts, and Parkside community college in central Cambridge already fits the bill.

The Government is aware of about 65 such schools but most are former grant-maintained religious schools which chose not to return to the voluntary-aided sector in 1998.

As a former community school, Parkside is the exception. Andrew Hutchinson, its principal, was told by a Department for Education and Skills official in 2004 that it was the only one of its kind.

Its governors always rejected GM status as divisive but opted to go for the extra autonomy foundation status offered as soon as the rules changed to allow community schools to apply in 2002.

When they realised regulations allowed them to set up a separate charitable trust as an alternative to the usual foundation model, they adopted it to ensure long-term continuity.

"We felt that separating the powers between governors responsible for its day-to-day running and a trust responsible for long-term strategy would be a guarantee of the school's future ethos," Mr Hutchinson said.

He feels Parkside's trust, which meets quarterly and includes representatives of local councils, feeder primaries, parents, governors and local businesses, roots the school firmly in the community.

But he has reservations about government plans to allow single businesses or other external sponsors to dominate school trusts.

"The key thing about a trust is that it should represent all sections of the community," he said. "It should not be skewed by one element or another or be dominated by one commercial body." He also disagrees with the Government allowing trusts to appoint a majority of a school's governing body.

Last summer, as the white paper which promotes trust schools was being developed, Peter Housden, then DfES director-general of schools, visited Parkside.

Coleridge community college, a struggling school in south Cambridge, was to be brought under Parkside's trust, in a prototype for the collaborative model the Government is promoting.

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