Businesses 'inappropriate' to sponsor schools listed

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The Independent Online

Ministers spelt out for the first time yesterday the type of companies that would be "inappropriate" to run one of Tony Blair's new breed of independently run "trust" schools.

Draft guidance circulated to MPs singled-out as being unsuitable to become partners in running a "trust" school companies involved in tobacco, alcohol, gambling and adult entertainment. It told governing bodies they should "ensure that 'trust' partners are not involved in activities that may be considered inappropriate for young people".

However, teachers' leaders and local authority experts warned last night that any attempt to set out a list of "inappropriate" organisations would "create a hornet's nest" - because of the organisations it failed to proscribe. "Does that mean there is nothing to protect young people from religious extremists, from political groups, from pressure groups or from fast-food manufacturers?" said Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.

In his address to the NUT conference last week, he warned that, while ministers were seeking to bar fast-food manufacturers from selling their wares in school vending machines from September, there was nothing to stop them coming in through the front door as "trust" partners, and running the school.

"This is an entirely inadequate list and doesn't offer protection to pupils," Mr Sinnott said. "The Government should abandon its 'trust' schools agenda and leave schools in the community."

Under the Government's proposed legislation, "trusts" would have the power to control the school's governing body and have a say in the curriculum.

The guidance makes it clear that the list "is not exhaustive". "Decision makers will wish to have particular regard to the strength of parental and other local opinion about the appropriateness of 'trust' partners' activities," it states.

It then goes on to list "positive examples of 'trust' scenarios". These include a top-performing school taking over a weaker school; universities or colleges linking with schools to improve take-up of higher education; and groups of schools banding together to share computer or financial management facilities.

Significantly, the list of examples makes no mention of either faith groups or private companies in its list of "positive examples", in what was interpreted by one source as an attempt to make the package appear more appealing to potential rebel MPs.