Foundation plans alarm governors

24th September 2004 at 01:00
Businesses, faith groups and philanthropists will be able to take over the management of existing secondary schools under new government proposals.

In moves described as incredibly dangerous by governors' representatives, the Government will allow millionaires, charities, religious groups and corporate sponsors to appoint the majority of governors in secondary schools across England.

Mainstream schools would be subject to the same controversial governing arrangements as academies, where some sponsors have put in place a curriculum based on business values or fundamentalist religious beliefs.

Parent, teacher and community representatives are in a minority on such governing bodies.

Previously parental ballots were required to opt out of local authority control or to abolish grammar schools. Now almost any secondary school could be handed over to a charitable foundation created by a sponsor on a simple vote by existing governors. Only failing schools are exempt.

The new foundation would own the buildings, land and other assets, employ staff and control admissions.

Like academies, such schools would be subject to a code of practice which is meant to prevent any extension of selection by ability, but otherwise each school's foundation would be able to set its own admissions criteria.

Foundation schools would be allowed to expand, regardless of any surplus places locally, and even open additional schools or bid for new schools proposed by the local authority. Dr Mary Wallis-Jones, London co-ordinator of the National Governors' Council, said: "This is incredibly dangerous.

Where is the public accountability?

"What is to stop religious sects, for example, taking over governing bodies? Where does this leave the representation of parents, the community and local authority on governing bodies?"

Jane Phillips, chair of the National Association of School Governors, said:

"We are very concerned about the loss of public accountability. Sections of the community now appoint governors. Is their influence to disappear entirely now?"

Members of the National Governors' Council are due to criticise the plan, part of Labour's five-year strategy, at a meeting next month with Stephen Twigg, the education junior minister.

The proposals represent a relaxing of rules surrounding foundation schools.

Since Labour came to power, only 20 schools, other than those which turned grant maintained under the Conservatives, have taken advantage of existing rights to become foundation schools.

The Specialist Schools Trust has already said it would be issuing guidance to its 2,000 secondary members urging them to become foundation.

Currently, the only schools, other than academies, in which sponsors are allowed to appoint a majority of governors are voluntary-aided.

The Government refused to give further details on the plans this week. A spokesman said: "We shall be consulting shortly on the detail of the strategy proposals."

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