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The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"New partnerships"
 real 28k

Education Secretary, David Blunkett
"Something has to be done"
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Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 13:20 GMT
Anger at scheme for failing schools
nescafe cafe
Sponsorship in schools could become more common
The government has run into a storm with its latest idea to revive underperforming schools.

We have an obligation to do something for those children

Education Secretary, David Blunkett
The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, proposed on Wednesday that "city academies" could be set up using "substantial" capital investment from business or voluntary, religious or private foundations.

The state would pay the running costs, but local education authorities would be left out of the loop - which has angered their representatives.

The academies would have new governing bodies, the right to operate their own curriculum, and freedom to "reinvent" the school day and pay their teachers more.

A half-baked idea from the US

Local authority chief Graham Lane
Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We will be developing the city academies as an alternative where there is consistent failure, where the alternative is that the children and the community no longer have a school at all and the children have to be moved out of the area."

Asked who would be willing to put money into city academies, he said: "There are people on the sidelines now who are prepared to do that, because they actually care about what is happening to inner city education."

This whole business smacks of a touch of panic

Union leader John Dunford
Where a local authority was failing to provide the education children needed, Mr Blunkett said, "we have an obligation to do something for those children and for the community, because a school is part of a community.

"If it dies, it is not merely the teachers that have to move on, it is the children whose life chances are destroyed."

Teachers' unions and the Conservatives said the idea, unveiled by Mr Blunkett in a speech to the Social Market Foundation think tank, amounted to a government admission that previous initiatives were not working.

The government says the new academies would be distinguished from the City Technology Colleges (CTCs) established under the previous Conservative government - though created under the same legislation - by having a wider range of sponsors.

Sponsorship fatigue

This may be the weakness of the scheme. The Tories managed to establish only 15 CTCs and found it hard to drum up support.

When the present government introduced education action zones in an effort to drive up standards in a cluster of schools, most of the bids came from local education authorities rather than outside firms.

Perhaps the most fruitful option will be the involvement of religious groups. The Church of England, keen to expand the number of secondary schools it runs, is already examining the possibility of taking over failing schools.


The city academies would add to Mr Blunkett's existing "fresh start" initiative, under which failing schools are closed and re-opened with a new head and staff.

The Shadow Education Secretary, Theresa May, said the idea was an "admission of the failure of the government's policy on failing schools".

"He has had to adopt Conservative policies to provide freedom for all these schools," she said.

"We want to see the same freedom of self-management and self-determination given to all schools.

'Brutal reality'

"It is time that Mr Blunkett admitted the failure of Labour's centralising, bureaucratic and prescriptive education policy and gave all schools the freedom to run themselves."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "This whole business smacks of a touch of panic. They seem to be realising that their initiatives are not working.

"They will not confront the brutal reality which is that these fresh start schools need brilliant leadership backed up by the ability to deal with disruptive youngsters.

"New sponsors and fancy new names will not change that."

graham lane
Graham Lane: "Half-baked gimmicks"
The Local Government Association said initiative was an attempt to circumvent the involvement of local education authorities in schools.

Its education chairman, Graham Lane, said: "This is something that is not acceptable. This is the beginning of removing education from local government.

"This is a half-baked idea from the US designed to deflect attention from the failure of 'fresh start'."

He said schools were successfully turned around through a partnership of local government, headteachers, teachers and governors.

"We don't need another untested and alien gimmick that will undermine the progress being made."

john dunford
John Dunford: "Sticking plaster"
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Today's proposal for city academies is the sticking plaster over the government's failure to provide adequate support for schools serving the most disadvantaged communities.

"The proposals fall well short of the coherent policy necessary to help schools in these situations and they are no more of an answer than parachuting in 'superheads.'

"The government must recognise that the problems of these schools are largely rooted in the communities they serve. David Blunkett cannot put the blame on the schools and their talented leaders."

The Liberal Democrat education spokesman, Phil Willis, said there was no "quick fix" for failing schools.

"Renaming schools for the third time will achieve nothing. Improving schools requires patience, commitment and resources.," he said.

Theresa May also denigrated Mr Blunkett's other initiative - to be announced in a speech to the Social Market Foundation on Wednesday evening but already widely reported - of encouraging schools to lengthen the "learning day".

doug mcavoy
Doug McAvoy: Strike threat over longer hours
He wants to guarantee older primary and secondary children at least three hours education a week outside the normal school day.

Ms May complained that Mr Blunkett was "sending out another set of orders".

So did the National Union of Teachers. Its general secretary, Doug McAvoy, linked the suggestion that teachers would voluntarily cover the extra hours with a long-standing objection to the introduction of performance-related pay for teachers in England this September.

"When the secretary of state says 'voluntary' it easily becomes coercion," he said.

"Heads will be tempted to use the payment by results system to press-gang teachers, already overworked and over-stressed, into undertaking additional duties, responsibilities and hours of work.

"If headteachers or governing bodies seek to impose such an extension that means action including where necessary strike action."

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See also:

15 Mar 00 | Education
Ex-superhead backs academies
11 Jan 00 | Education
Church plans to run more schools
12 Mar 00 | Education
Extra hours for school children
13 Mar 00 | Education
More pupils paid to attend school
01 Mar 00 | Education
Closure threat to failing schools
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