BT and Microsoft join businesses hoping to run Blair's trust schools

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The Independent Online

What do Microsoft, EMI, King's College and the Catholic Education Service have in common? They have all expressed their interest in government plans for a network of independently run "trust" schools.

Serco, a company which runs London's Docklands Light Railway, BT, five other universities and the Church of England have also expressed interest in the countrywide network of schools.

The businesses involved would gain ownership of the schools' assets and buildings and have the power to appoint the governing body, under the Government's proposals.

The schools would be given the freedom to run their own affairs ­ including admissions policies ­ although there would be a ban on any further selection.

As the names of the businesses were released by Downing Street yesterday, ministers faced demands for the creation of a "blacklist" of inappropriate companies that should never be involved in the running of state schools, while Tony Blair spoke of his "hell" at trying to steer his controversial school reforms through Parliament.

Last night, Dr John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders ­ which represents school heads ­ called on ministers to draw up a code of conduct for school business partners.

He also called for a "blacklist" of inappropriate firms. "You wouldn't want a tobacco company to become a partner in running a school ­ or companies that promoted unhealthy eating," he said. "Also, you would not want some very, very narrowly based religious sect.

"The lunatics must not be put in charge of the asylum".

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: "The plan for trust schools is creeping privatisation, handing over control of the governance of our schools and the curriculum to groups and individuals who are answerable to no one. They may have their own axe to grind or view to peddle that control of a trust school would give them free rein to promote."

Mr Blair told a seminar yesterday ­ which also included expressions of interests from arts and media groups such as Channel Four's 4Learning: " Any of you who have put through a change programme in your businesses or in your organisation or your school knows that basically it is hell while it is happening.

"But, if it is the right thing to do, then it's amazing how afterwards people actually settle down and wonder what all the fuss was about."

He added: "Trust schools can address failure and under-performing schools in new ways."

However, Mr Blair faced renewed pressure from Labour backbenchers despite making concessions over the proposed changes.

These would include a stricter code to ensure schools did not increase selection, and allowing councils to continue to open new community comprehensives, a move originally banned in the White Paper outlining the reforms last autumn.

Alan Simpson, a member of the left-wing Campaign Group of MPs, asked: " Why are these private companies interested in trust schools? We need more assurances that they are not just coming in to start asset stripping."

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "There is a comprehensive set of safeguards to ensure that inappropriate organisations do not become involved in trust schools. Trusts have to be not-for-profit charitable organisations.

"No school has to acquire a trust or enter into a partnership with an organisation they don't believe will benefit the school."

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