Private faith schools join list of those considering academy switch

2nd July 2010 at 01:00
Muslims, Buddhists - and Sathya Sai followers - look to Government cash in place of fees

A school that follows the teaching of the Indian guru Sathya Sai has appeared on a Government list of independents considering applying for academy status, in a bid to replace fees with Whitehall funding.

In total, 17 private schools, including Buddhist and Steiner institutions, have so far shown an interest in becoming state-funded under the Coalition's drive to expand the academies programme.

Many of the others on the list are Muslim schools and those catering for other minority faiths, but Montessori and Steiner schools also appear among the 1,700 state and fee-charging institutions that may choose to become academies.

Heads who spoke to The TES said they were interested in state funding so that they could admit children regardless of their ability to pay.

But many said they were making only very tentative enquiries and expressed fears that academy status could compromise their basic principles.

Organisations representing independent schools say they do not expect many members to switch to academy status, except as a way to remedy financial woes, because accepting taxpayers' money could affect their independence.

So far, six private schools have become academies, with one more in the pipeline.

Belvedere Academy in Liverpool, one of the first schools to transfer to the state sector in 2007, was this week celebrating the "outstanding" rating it has been given in its first Ofsted report.

The 83-pupil Sathya Sai School in Leicester, which bases its education on the Sathya Sai education in human values programme, is also considering academy status.

Headteacher Usha Lim said she felt it was "unfair" for parents to have to pay taxes and schools fees. "Our parents are working class or middle class - they are not rich people," she said.

Martin Whitlock, who is "exploring the possibilities" for state funding at the Rudolf Steiner School in Totnes, Devon, said: "We seek to make education available to families regardless of their ability to pay, and state funding would help us fulfil that mission.

"But this can only work if we can achieve that without it interfering with our methods and principles."

Steiner schools, one of which has already become an academy in Hereford, shun the national curriculum and testing.

Other schools on the list of those showing an interest include the Islamic Al Muntada Secondary Girls's School in west London, which is currently running an appeal to raise #163;1.4 million.

Peter Barber, owner of Hill Head Preparatory School in Fareham, Hampshire, said he had shown an interest in academy status to "trigger a debate" over excessive local authority interference in his foundation stage pupils, who are partially state-funded.

Meanwhile, a conference hosted this week by the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools heard that the huge expansion of the academies programme and the introduction of "free schools" run by teachers and parents could result in a boom in partnerships between the state and private sector.

THE GRASS IS GREENER ...

- Private schools that have already become state-funded academies

Birkenhead High School Academy, The Wirral

Bristol Cathedral Choir School, Bristol

Colston's Girls' School, Bristol

The Belvedere Academy, Liverpool

The Hereford Steiner Academy, Herefordshire

William Hulme's Grammar School, Manchester.

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