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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June, 2004, 18:25 GMT 19:25 UK
200 city academies promised
Walsall Academy
Walsall Academy: City academies have sought to look distinctive
A major expansion of the city academy scheme in England is to be part of the government's "big picture" on education.

The Department for Education and Skills says there will be a target of 200 of these elite schools by 2010.

City academies are state funded and free to students - but have much more independence than mainstream secondary schools.

The first few academies have received support from private donors.

But it remains to be seen how a much larger number of academies will be funded - and there could be greater involvement from the private education sector.

Flagship schools

City academies were designed as a way of creating high-quality, flagship schools in deprived areas, where educational provision was often seen as offering few choices to families.

Bexley Academy
The first academy opened in Bexley two years ago

The idea was they would offer the type of advantages associated with independent schools to inner-city communities.

There would not be any fees charged, but the schools have promoted a strong sense of "ethos", backed up by a heavy investment in facilities and technology.

The first three academies opened in 2002 - and another nine opened the following year. There are currently plans for 53 academies to be open by 2007 - with 30 of these to be in London.

The first wave involved the support of individuals and businesses - who have contributed to the individual character of these new institutions.

But the government is now set to spread this type of school across the country, as an important part in its plans for secondary education in England.

There has been opposition from some teachers to the introduction of academies, with claims that they will be divisive and will cream off the best pupils.

It has also been argued that the money pumped into city academies could have helped to improve existing mainstream schools.

The government's attempt to capture the initiative with city academies comes as the Conservatives are about to put forward their own vision of how parents can have more choice over school places.

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