Onward Christian sponsors

7th April 2006 at 01:00
Car dealer Graham Dacre is the latest rich believer to back an academy, prompting renewed claims of 'indoctrination'. Graeme Paton reports

A Christian car dealer has emerged as the latest businessman to sponsor an academy, as it was revealed that more than a third of them are being backed by religious groups.

Graham Dacre, millionaire founder of the Lind Automotive Group and a committed Christian, is planning to support an academy in partnership with the Anglican church.

The proposed academy, which will have a "Christian ethos", is to replace a non-religious comprehensive in Norwich, despite objections from the local MP, who said that the plans were motivated by "indoctrination".

Mr Dacre is the latest in a series of Christian entrepreneurs to support academies. It emerged this week that Sir Peter Vardy, car dealer and founder of the Emmanuel Schools Foundation - which sponsors two academies and a city technology college in the North-east - is putting pound;2m towards a planned new academy in Blyth, Northumberland, for children aged four to 18. The foundation has been criticised for advocating the teaching of creationism alongside evolution theories, In all, 36 out of the 100 academies open or under development are sponsored, or part-sponsored, by Christian groups or churches.

Mr Dacre established the Lind group, which has an annual turnover of more than pound;430m, more than 14 years ago.

He is reportedly a member of a Norwich-based evangelical Christian church, Proclaimers International, and has used his personal fortune to establish the Lind trust, an educational charity.

Among projects backed by the trust so far is a pound;3m youth centre in the city, which Mr Dacre said that he had set up to to "serve the needs of others as Christ did".

Norwich council confirmed this week that a formal submission of interest had been lodged with the DfES to convert Heartsease high school into a 1,400-pupil academy, with Mr Dacre and the Anglican diocese of Norwich providing pound;2m sponsorship. The Rt Revd Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, said the schools would have a "Christian ethos" but no faith tests on entry. He also promised "imaginative specialisms", particularly related to the environment. "This academy will be a means of gaining a major investment in an area noted for social deprivation," he said.

But Ian Gibson, the Labour MP for Norwich north told The TES: "This an improving school and there is no evidence whatsoever that it will improve just because it adopts a Christian ethos.

"There seems to be a whole gang of evangelical Christians in Norwich, among them Graham Dacre and the Bishop of Norwich, not motivated by education but by indoctrination."

Other groups supporting academies include the Oasis Trust, a Christian charity founded by the Rev Steve Chalke, a Baptist minister, which is sponsoring four schools. Mr Chalke said criticism of his group was unjustified. "Our schools do not select and are open to all faiths and none," he said. "Education is not about indoctrination. I want to create schools that give opportunities to children, whoever they may be; I see that as my Christian responsibility."

The United Learned Trust, an Anglican charity chaired by Lord Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, is among the biggest supporters of academies, with 12 either open or planned (see box).

Bob Edmiston, founder of the IM Group, and one of Britain's richest men, with a fortune of more than pound;300m, is sponsoring two academies, including the pound;29m Grace academy, opening in Solihull, West Midlands, in September.

Mr Edmiston, who founded the global evangelical charity Christian Vision, told The TES this week: "Our country is based on Christian values - the fact that our school have a Christian ethos should be of no concern.

Christians are encouraged to be public-spirited, motivated by a higher vocation. It just so happens that I am reasonably wealthy, therefore I have the ability to contribute more than the average Christian."

Another academy with a "Christian ethos" will be opened in Sandwell, West Midlands, with pound;2m sponsorship from engineering magnate Eric Payne.

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

FE college sponsors academy, FE Focus 3

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