Schools commissioner quits to head academy sponsor

7th November 2008 at 00:00
As the champion of greater school choice and diversity leaves the Government, one teachers' union calls for his post to be scrapped

The senior civil servant in charge of developing academy proposals is leaving the Government to head up a major academy sponsor, leading to calls from teachers' leaders for his post to be scrapped.

Sir Bruce Liddington, the first schools commissioner, has been made director general of Edutrust, a charity with the backing of influential Muslims and Christians, with ambitions to open 20 academies.

His post in the Department for Children, Schools and Families was supposed to involve championing fair school admissions, supporting the greater involvement of parents in schools, helping local authorities to develop as commissioners of schools, and promoting "choice and diversity" through academy plans and attracting trust school partners.

But Chris Keates, the NASUWT general secretary, claims the commissioner's job is now widely perceived as being about pushing through academy and trust school plans, rather than taking a balanced view of school provision. She has written to Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, asking him to discontinue the schools' commissioner post.

"We are not convinced that the office is necessary or provides any added value to state education," Ms Keates told The TES.

A recent Parliamentary question asked by David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, revealed that the office had a budget of Pounds 4.3 million in 2008-09.

Jim Knight, the schools minister, said: "Bruce has done a great job. The functions that he has been able to perform with his team are hugely important and we are clear that we need those functions to continue."

Asked by The TES if it had been decided that they would be carried out under the same structure, the minister said: "Those are discussions we haven't yet had with the civil service."

The commissioner's post was first announced as part of Tony Blair's plans to diversify the state school system in 2005 and has always been controversial. It was described by rebel Labour backbenchers as "an expensive new bureaucracy".

Sir Bruce, a former headteacher knighted for turning round Northampton School for Boys, began working for the Department for Education on academies in 2000. By 2004 he was the Government's leading academies adviser, and The TES revealed that he was also working for Veredus, a head-hunting firm that had been employed by three academies. Sir Bruce denied there was any conflict of interest. There was no suggestion that he was involved in, or in any way influenced, the selection of Veredus for any academy contracts.

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