Page last updated at 10:03 GMT, Monday, 7 September 2009 11:03 UK

Academy up-front payment dropped

Pupils at an academy
There will be another 67 academies opened this term

The government is to remove the financial barrier to becoming a sponsor of an academy school in England - with the aim of attracting more backers.

Instead of investing £2m up-front, sponsors must show the "skills and leadership" to run an academy.

The bid to accelerate the number of academies comes as ministers marked the opening of the 200th such schools.

They provide "new starts for disadvantaged communities," says Children's Secretary Ed Balls.

The dropping of the £2m requirement is intended to both increase the number of academies opening and appeal to organisations which might have been deterred by the cost.

Ed Balls: "I'm impatient to make sure that we can have a good school in every community"

Speaking at the opening of The City Academy in Hackney, east London, Mr Balls said this was the biggest opening day of schools since Victorian times.

He added: "We want the widest range of sponsors possible. Money shouldn't be the only factor.

"The test should be not whether they have the money, but the track record and commitment."

He wants to see successful charities, parents' groups and private firms become academy sponsors.

Also at the opening, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said such a school was a reflection of the investment in education and an example of "doing your best by people".

"It's about results, getting the best performance," he said.

'Independent ethos'

The government says academies help to break cycles of underachievement in schools in deprived areas.

They are state schools - with no fees or selection by ability - but with an independent ethos shaped by the sponsor.

At City Academy in Hackney, the vice principal for resources, Richard Powell, said the new school was a chance to "start afresh".

After a previous career in banking, he said the academy model was a way of innovating and applying professional structures to managing schools.

The school will have a specialism in business and finance - and he says the school will provide a resource for a hard-pressed local community.

Since the academy scheme was launched in 2002, sponsors have included businesses, universities, faith groups and charities.

The milestone of 200 academies is now a year ahead of target - with plans to open a further 200.

Among the other academies opening on Monday, are the Health Academy in Manchester, sponsored by the local NHS trust and North Birmingham Academy, whose sponsors include Aston Villa football club.

The waiver of financial sponsorship has already been introduced for universities, colleges and schools.

'Rose-tinted view'

Instead of an initial cash investment, would-be sponsors will be expected to follow a "robust, transparent procurement process to demonstrate commitment to the education sector and the necessary skills and leadership".

Sponsors will still be encouraged to set up an endowment to help fund the school - an arrangement that the government likens to endowments for universities in the United States.

But teachers' unions have been sceptical of the academy programme - arguing that the extra spending on academies has had a divisive impact on other local schools.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: "We don't believe that taking schools out of their local authorities and having them run by people who have no experience of running schools... is a way of doing school improvement."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said taxpayer-owned school property was being handed to private interests with little accountability and that under future governments state schools could be run for profit.

Local interests

However, Lynn Gadd, principal at the Harefield Academy, in Uxbridge, Middlesex, said there was no evidence that potential sponsors were looking for profit.

"Local people are governors. They certainly aren't going to let me do anything that isn't in the interests of young people in my care."

But general secretary of the Nasuwt teaching union Chris Keates said there was no evidence to demonstrate that academies did any better or worse than other schools.

She added: "It is time to remove the rose tinted spectacles which politicians from all parties appear to wear when they look at academies."

The Anti-Academies Alliance points to research which suggested academies improved no faster than other schools with similar profiles and intake.

'Footing the bill'

Unison's education officer Christine Lewis claims academies are an unproven experiment, which are about to prove even more expensive.

"The government is showing signs of desperation because they have failed to attract enough paying sponsors to invest in academies," she said, adding that tax payers would be left footing the bill.

Academies have provoked a mixed response from parents. Many academies have been oversubscribed, whereas others have met with vocal protests from local parents.

The Conservatives are supporters of academies - but say that the schools should have even greater independence and have accused the government of diluting their ability to innovate.



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SEE ALSO
Academies 'losing independence'
23 Feb 09 |  Education
Balls pushes ahead with academies
30 Jan 09 |  Education
More universities back academies
10 Sep 08 |  Education

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