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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 November 2006, 13:03 GMT
Blair wants another 200 academies
Tony Blair
Tony Blair is pushing forward his changes to education in England
PM Tony Blair has announced a major expansion in England of the city academies programme, which aims to improve schools in disadvantaged areas.

In a speech in Birmingham, Mr Blair said he wanted 400 academies, double the present target for the year 2010.

The academies are independent of local authorities and part private-funded.

Mr Blair also wants 100 of the equally controversial new trust schools to be planned by next spring. There is a 10,000 incentive for early adopters.

Baccalaureate

Mr Blair was appearing at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust annual conference, in a speech marking 10 years since he vowed to make "education, education, and education" his priorities.

He praised academies as an "integral part" of education that bring "more choice and higher standards".

City academies and trust schools are at the core of Mr Blair's education policy and both have proved controversial.

EXAM CHANGES
student getting A-level results
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City academies started opening in 2002.

To become an academy, a school must raise up to 2m from private sponsors. In return, the government pays the rest of the start-up costs, typically 25m.

Critics are concerned that the outside sponsors - for example, businesses, faith groups and charities - have too much control over the school governance.

The current target is for 200 to be established or agreed by 2010. The government is halfway towards this.

No new date was put on the aspiration of having 400.

Trust schools were enabled in the Education and Inspections Act, with some Labour backbenchers fearing they would lead to a two-tier education system.

Under the new legislation parents, businesses and voluntary groups can run trust schools.

The trusts will take control of their own buildings and land, directly employ their own staff, and will set and manage their own admissions criteria, while remaining state maintained schools.

Expertise

Schools Minister Andrew Adonis confirmed the latest list of potential partners: Unilever, the Co-operative Group and College, Exeter University, Laing O'Rourke, Essex University, Sunderland University, the University of Wolverhampton and the University of the West of England.

"It shows the range of potential partners that can bring expertise to the table to help schools develop," he said.

He announced plans for a wave of "early adopter" trust schools which would be eligible to apply for up to 10,000 to help with set-up costs.

There are now 30 "pathfinder" projects embracing more than 50 schools.

The general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mary Bousted, said: "The government should stop its obsession with academies before it does any further damage.

"ATL fails to see how academies and trust schools will address the twin evils of pupil under-achievement and inequality of opportunity.

"Trusts are a solution in search of a problem. We can't see what academies and trusts can do, that foundation schools cannot."


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