Church to sponsor inner-city scheme to aid poor schools

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The Independent Online

Three new city academies, which aim to bring private funds into failing schools, were announced yesterday by the Government.

Three new city academies, which aim to bring private funds into failing schools, were announced yesterday by the Government.

One, sponsored by the Church of England and local businesses, will be in Liverpool, specialising in technology. Frank Lowe, marketing manager of the tennis player Anna Kournikova and chairman of the Lowe group and Octagon Sports, is also offering £1.5m for one of the academies announced yesterday by David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education. The Lowe-backed centre will be in Brent, north London, specialising in sport. CfBT Education Services is backing the third, in Lambeth, south London, specialising in technology.

At least another three, costing £10m each, are expected to be announced before Christmas. The Church said that it was involved in negotiations for another two. Lord Harris of Peckham, the Corporation of London and Peter Vardy, the owner of the Reg Vardy car dealership chain, have also expressed interest.

All the academies will be in inner cities. The Government will pay at least 80 per cent of the start-up costs and private and voluntary groups the rest. They will be state-funded but independent of councils. In return for their money, sponsors will have power to change the curriculum and the school day.

The initiative has been compared to the Conservatives' city technology colleges, designed to be "beacons of excellence" to nearby schools. Fifteen were built before the programme was abandoned because of lack of interest from private firms expected to provide most of the start-up costs.

Ministers announced the city academies after the Fresh Start programme, which closes failing schools and opens them with new superheads and governors, ran into difficulties.

The Brent academy will replace the failing Willesden High school but in Liverpool a new school will be built on a site which has not yet been decided.

Mr Blunkett said: "The academies will offer scope for radical innovation by enabling business and voluntary-sector partners to make a direct contribution to improving standards. They will benefit not only their own pupils, but also children at other schools in the area by providing a focus for excellence and by sharing their expertise and resources."

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, who is chairman of the Kensington Regeneration Company in the city, said: "We want to pursue this as one of our strategies for dealing with youth alienation and under-achievement in Kensington, which has no secondary school."

The school will be for local pupils whether or not they are church members.

Nigel de Gruchy, the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the academies would have special status and more money and in time would become "semi- grammar schools".

He added: "This does seem to contradict one of the Government's mantras of benefits for all, not just the few. Making the state education service dependent on private sponsorship is sad and demeaning."