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Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 16:02 GMT
Labour's bold borrowed ideas
boys writing
City academies are the latest idea to raise standards
By BBC Education Correspondent Mike Baker

Labour's audacity is breathtaking.

With their plan for "city academies", ministers have stolen a policy from right under the noses of the Conservatives whilst taking advantage of laws passed by a previous Tory government.

The parentage of the new inner-city academies is twofold.

First, they are an adaptation of the city technology colleges created by the Conservatives over a decade ago. The CTCs were intended as "beacons of excellence".

The initial plan was for 20 new schools paid for mainly by industrial and business sponsors. However only 15 CTCs were created as business sponsors found the cost of raising the full amount to build a new school too high.

Nevertheless they were a success, if rather ahead of their time. They pioneered the longer school day and year and were a precursor of the specialist schools now so favoured by Labour.

Local councils excluded

It is a sign of how far "New Labour" has travelled to recall that the CTC programme was vehemently opposed by the Labour Opposition of the time, not least because it was seen as a threat to local education authorities.

Now Labour is quite happy to produce a "CTC Mark II" scheme which completely excludes local councils.

It has left Labour local government leaders seething and muttering about the end of local council involvement in education.

The second branch of the academies' parentage stems from the United States. The charter schools movement has spread fast across the States: there are now 1,700 charter schools or "public school academies", as they are known.

Charter schools can be opened by private companies, community groups or individuals.


Like the city academies, their founders must contribute to the startup costs and the taxpayers fund the running costs. They too are seen as a threat to the traditional "owners" of schools, the school districts.

It is particularly galling for the Tories that Labour has borrowed the charter school idea as they had already floated their own version of the American model, to be called "partnership schools".

Once again the Conservatives have found themselves outflanked by Labour invading the traditional territory of the political right.

However, although Labour have pulled off a political master-stroke they must still make it work. As their existing "fresh start" policy shows, launching a policy and delivering the results are two different things.

The biggest challenge could be the very same problem that tripped up the CTCs, namely the reluctance of businesses to deep really deeply into their pockets to fund state schools.

Government insiders insist they already have firm expressions of interest from big business, and stress they will not be asking the academy promoters to contribute as much as was demanded by the CTC programme.

Nevertheless Labour now has another potential hostage to fortune: if several city academies fail to materialise or fail to raise standards, they could prove an albatross in the run up to the next election.

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15 Mar 00 | Education
Anger at scheme for failing schools
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