All state secondary schools to get private money 'by end of decade'

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The Independent Online

Every state secondary school will be either specialist or a privately sponsored city academy by the end of the decade, a senior government adviser disclosed yesterday.

The vision was spelt out by Sir Cyril Taylor, the chairman of the Specialist Colleges Trust and architect of Tony Blair's flagship specialist schools programme, in advance of a five-year plan for the future of education to be published by ministers next week.

It will mean that all 3,000 secondary schools in England will have some form of private sponsorship. Schools need to raise £50,000 of private money before they can be granted specialist status.

The academies, whose number is expected to swell to 200 as a result of the blueprint, are run by private sponsors. They set up in struggling inner-city areas to replace failing schools.

The blueprint follows yesterday's announcement of a further 268 specialist schools in September, bringing the total number to 1,952 - well over half the secondary schools in the country.

Sir Cyril said he expected the number to rise to 2,900 within two years. "That will leave around 200 schools which will be swept up by the city academy programme," he said. "That will sweep up the failing schools so that - in the end - there will be no 'bog-standard' comprehensives left.

"It will take five years after that to turn those schools round - but after that there should be no underperforming schools."

The shake-up will mean all secondary schools in England will receive some form of private sponsorship - be it from business, churches, charities or, ministers hope, parents banding together to back a bid for specialist status.

Sir Cyril's trust holds back sponsorship money centrally to help schools in deprived areas which would find it difficult to get private aid.

The blueprint will also result in secondary schools receiving more freedom to run their affairs, Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, said. Top-performing ones will be free to reach pay deals with teachers and be given "foundation" status. It will allow them to sever ties with local education authorities by removing councillors from their governing bodies.

The number to be given this freedom is expected to mushroom as the number of specialist schools expands.

Mr Clarke was countering criticism from the Conservatives that Labour was limiting freedom from council control to its planned 200 academies - privately sponsored schools allowed to run their own affairs with state financial backing.

"Freedom to the front line [headteachers] is a very, very important element of the whole process of our five-year plan," he said. "The criticism implies a couple of hundred of the 3,000 to 4,000 secondary schools."

Local education authority leaders are worried, however, that the move will lead to the setting up of a national funding body, taking all secondary schools out of their control.

Mr Clarke also revealed that the five-year plan would pave the way for secondary schools to specialise in two different subjects, say arts and science.

Specialist schools worked well in large urban conurbations where a group of schools could specialise in different areas and share their expertise, he said. In smaller towns, it made sense to allow a school to take on a second specialism once it had proved it could excel in its first choice.