Charity set up by board will fund controversial new schools - but pupils will not be tied to its exams
Graeme Paton A charity set up by one of Britain's biggest exam boards is the latest sponsor of academies.
Edge, established by Edexcel two years ago, has been named as the preferred sponsor of two academies in Nottingham and Milton Keynes.
The charity said this week that its schools would focus on vocational courses, including "high-quality" work placements and business mentoring.
Edge was formed when the exam board was bought out by Pearson, the educational services company. Andy Powell, chief executive, said it no longer had formal links with its founder and said it would not encourage the academies to use Edexcel syllabuses.
However, he said the charity, which is financed with cash generated by the sale of Edexcel to Pearson in June 2003, would draw upon its "very wide range" of education contacts, including Edexcel and other exam boards, to create an innovative timetable.
The Milton Keynes academy is likely to replace the Sir Frank Markham community school. The comprehensive was earmarked to become an academy last year but its then sponsor, Global Education Management Systems (Gems), one of the world's biggest education companies, pulled out complaining of adverse media coverage, prompted by a parental revolt at one of its nearby fee-paying schools.
A second academy sponsored by Edge will be in Nottingham, combining two schools, River Leen and Henry Mellish comprehensives.
Mr Powell said: "We are now an entirely independent foundation with a mission to promote practical and vocational learning. At the moment, there is an academic gold standard and if pupils fail on that pathway many feel rejected. We want to change attitudes to vocational courses, showing many pupils are motivated by doing things for real and learning from experts."
Edge is one of several new sponsors of academies in recent months. Last month, the Government unveiled plans making it easier for sponsors to back the schools, as it drives towards its aim of 200 by 2010. In September, the number of academies will increase from 27 to 45.
Lord Bhatia, a crossbench peer, has won backing from Bradford council to sponsor a failing comprehensive in the city. He is investing some pound;2m in the Rhodesway school through the British Edutrust Foundation, a non-profit company, which also lists Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, on its board of trustees.
Lord Bhatia said he had lined up corporate sponsors to contribute pound;50m to the academies programme to open 20 of the schools, which will be "open to all races and all faiths". He has also pledged to pay for poor children from the new Rhodesway academy to attend university.
David Samworth, the millionaire meat magnate behind the Ginsters pasty chain, is planning to sponsor an academy in Nottingham. He is already backing two academies in Leicester.
Sir Peter Vardy, car dealer and founder of the Emmanuel Schools Foundation, a network of academies with a Christian ethos, is proceeding with plans to sponsor a third academy in the North-east.
Sir Peter, whose schools have been attacked for advocating the teaching of creationism in science, has seen his bid to sponsor a school in Blyth, Northumberland, backed by the local council. The authority has offered to take parents in Blyth to another Emmanuel academy, in Middlesbrough, as part of its consultation exercise.