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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 01:34 GMT
Lure of trust status for schools
Greensward College
Greensward College believes trust status will benefit pupils
Trust schools have proved a stumbling block for the government's controversial new education bill.

Over 90 "rebel" Labour MPs feared the proposed schools would lead to a two-tier education system in England.

Most schools have shown little inclination to sign up for the proposals.

Given the controversy, why are some schools positive about applying for trust status?

For the Priory School in Lincoln it is about cementing a link with another nearby school, where its headteacher has an executive headship.

The Priory's deputy headteacher Steve Davies said trust status would otherwise have very little effect on the school.

"There's not a lot of difference between the proposed trust schools and foundation schools - which we currently are," he said.

Headteacher Richard Gilliland is currently the executive head of nearby Joseph Ruston School.

Mr Davies said any application to be a trust school would be about further cementing this relationship.

"We don't really get any more money," he said. "It's simply because Mr Gilliland is the executive head of another school so it puts the two schools naturally together. But in terms of the single school it would have very little effect."

Expertise

One of the first schools to put in an application for trust status will be Monkseaton community high school in Tyneside.

Its American-born head teacher Paul Kelley has pioneered links between the school with both Microsoft and the Open University.

Mr Kelley said trust status would enable schools to work with big business and use their expertise. This knowledge could then be further disseminated to other schools.

"Because of the organisations we work with - they have the expertise. So that if we do come up with something that's helpful for other schools we can share it with them very, very quickly."

He acknowledges that Monkseaton gains from its relationship with Microsoft in receiving software but by the school gaining trust status it would "protect" the company from being seen to be doing anything untoward.

He said: "Every time Microsoft does something people always want to know what's in it for them. This gives them a way of operating with a school as a registered charity so they are bound by charitable rules."

For Mike O'Sullivan, vice-principal of Greensward College in Hockley, Essex, the attraction of trust status comes down to the hope of more money.

Currently, 9% of Greensward's budget goes to the local education authority.

Our philosophy is: no selection
Mike O'Sullivan, vice-principal of Greensward College

But the school management hopes, by gaining trust status, it will be able to retain that money and re-channel it into the school.

"We want that 9% of money to go to our pupils," said Mr O'Sullivan.

"If there's additional funding, we are one school which is more likely to take up the trust option."

Innovation

But there is also the issue of greater flexibility and control.

And, as a former grant-maintained school in the 1990s - before the Labour government abolished this system - Greensward College is no stranger to managing its own affairs.

"We would like a lot of the freedoms the White Paper can give the school - such as innovation, the ability to innovate in terms of the curriculum," said Mr O'Sullivan.

"Our aims are clear - we want to raise the attainment of our students as best we can and we think trust status will allow us to do that.

"We will have greater flexibility in terms of teaching, the curriculum and class sizes."

Selection

Asked if the thorny issue of selection would detract the school from applying for trust status, Mr O'Sullivan dismissed it as a red herring.

"We're a technology college, so we can select, but we don't.

"We could select up to 10%, but we're a community school and we're here to serve the community and our philosophy is: no selection."

Mr O'Sullivan said the debate on selection had detracted from the benefits the White Paper had to offer schools and pupils.

"The selection issue has muddied the water - people have latched on to that and it's been hijacked by those who are anti-selection."




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