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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 08:34 GMT 09:34 UK
North West: City Academies
Jim Clarke
Politics Show North West

City Academies - the way forward for "basket case" inner city schools or another Blairite cop-out to the private sector?

Wallsall Academy
City Academies - the future?

The government has announced a major expansion of "City Academies".

These schools are run by private sponsors and are outside local education authority control.

It is a controversial policy, the educational equivalent of foundation hospitals.

And it is not just the teaching unions, opposition politicians or even Labour's growing awkward squad who have their doubts.

Over the past few weeks the newspapers have been reporting major Cabinet rows about the way forward.

The Prime Minister wants a major expansion of the scheme but John Prescott believes the scheme undermines the role of local councils.

More independence
Specialist or academy status for all
Most popular schools can expand
Three-year budgets

Education Secretary Charles Clarke is worried about the cost and wants the scheme limited to failing inner city schools.

The Manchester Academy

Politics Show North West takes a close look at the region's only city academy - the Manchester Academy in Moss Side.

The Manchester Academy opened in 2003, replacing the failing Ducie High School. It was a school ripe for a radical makeover:

  • less than 5% of pupils achieved five or more GCSEs
  • attendance levels were among the lowest in the country
  • parents had lost faith in the school
  • in 2001 there were three desks for every one pupil.

In September 2003 Ducie became the Manchester Academy and was taken over by a company called the "United Learning Trust", a Christian schools charity.

They have additional sponsorship from Manchester University's nearby Science Park.

Head teacher Kathy August has begun the lengthy task of turning the school round. So far so good.

An interim report by school inspectors noted big improvements but there is plenty more to do.

A huge amount of public money has been invested in the Manchester Academy
Kathy August, Head teacher

In 2005 the pupils move in to an impressive, and expensive, new building nearby.

Ms August told Politics Show: "It is an exciting time for us but you cannot underestimate the challenges that lie ahead.

"A huge amount of public money has been invested in the Manchester Academy and people will want to see a return on that sooner rather than later".

Supporters of the city academies say it is an imaginative solution to the problems faced by some inner city schools.

The 'bazooka' approach

Take a school that no one wants to go to and the local authority wants to close down ... and create a beacon of excellence.

Money, big money, goes in, and the private sponsors can use their freedom from local authority control to introduce a fresh approach.

These schools can select up to 10% of their pupils.

But the critics of academies are not convinced.

They fear it is a step towards a two-tier education system, the return of grammar schools by the back door.

The privatisation aspect also worries some. Should schools be effectively removed from local authority control?

Concerns over cost?

Frank Field MP
Frank Field MP is questioned by Stuart Flinders

Most academies get a "high specification" new building as part of the package.

Costing around 20m each, these will blast a big hole in the Department of Education's capital budget.

Politics Show North West spends a day in school to find out what life is like in the Manchester Academy and talks to Frank Field MP - an enthusiastic advocate of city academies, and the Lib Dems education spokesman John Pugh, who believes they do nothing to raise standards.

Have your say

Let us know what you think. That is the Politics Show Sunday 11 July at Midday.

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