Sir Cyril to run academies

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
Ex-Tory activist and Blairite stalwart to aim for 200 part-private funded schools in five years

Sir Cyril Taylor, the education adviser behind city technology colleges in the 1980s and architect of the specialist schools movement, is to run the Government's academies programme.

The move will further increase the influence that Sir Cyril, chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust and one of the Prime Minister's key advisers, has over education in England.

Since 1997 the number of schools with specialist status has soared from 240 to 2,382, and Sir Cyril has convinced some of the richest men in the country to support the project. Philip Green, chief executive of the Arcadia Group, the clothing retailer, contributed pound;1.25 million towards 50 specialist schools and Jack Petchy, a property entrepreneur, has given more than Pounds 500,000.

Now the Government hopes Sir Cyril will have similar success with academies, helping to meet the Government target of 200 schools by 2010.

This week it was revealed that his organisation will merge with the Academy Sponsors Trust, set up last summer to support companies, churches and philanthropists approached to part-finance the schools. Sponsors are expected to invest pound;2 million in each academy and also provide expertise and advice to the school.

The latest move, drawing on Sir Cyril's experience as an adviser to successive Conservative and Labour administrations, comes as ministers pledged to continue expanding the programme after GCSE results in 10 of 14 academies improved last week.

Lord Adonis, the schools minister, said the rise in the proportion of pupils getting five Cs or better in GCSEs or vocational equivalents was evidence that the policy was working.

Sir Cyril, a former Conservative activist who was behind the creation of the original 15 city technology colleges in the 1980s, has seen his empire balloon under Labour.

He supports Blairite policies such as greater parental choice, school autonomy and private-sector interest in state education.

Rona Kiley, chief executive of the Academy Sponsors Trust, which has helped set up 17 academies since 2002, with another 10 opening this month and 30 more planned, is also expected to play a major role the newly-merged organisation overseeing further expansion of the programme.

An insider said: "It was thought that Sir Cyril would be better placed to take on the academies programme now that it has been given a strong start."

In provisional results released last week, GCSE improvements at some academies were dramatic. At three, the proportion of pupils achieving the benchmark five or more grades at A* to C doubled.

Greig city academy, in Haringey, north London, saw the figure double from 26 to 52 per cent. The academy at Peckham, south London, improved its figure from 9 to 22 per cent, while results at Manchester academy rose from 9 to 25 per cent. At the City academy, Bristol, the headline figure climbed from 33 to 51 per cent - double the rate achieved by its predecessor secondary in 2003.

But at Unity city academy in Middlesbrough, results slipped from 17 to 15 per cent.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: "It makes sense in many ways to absorb academies into the Specialist Schools Trust, but the growing influence of Sir Cyril and the trust raises real questions over who has overall responsibility for the development of secondary schools in this country.

"The trust has a lot of power and I am concerned that it is an unaccountable vehicle for radical school reform and privatisation."

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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