City academy to be failed by Ofsted inspectors

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The Independent Online

One of the Government's city academies is set to be failed by Ofsted inspectors, putting pressure on ministers to justify the controversial programme which is expensive but has so far failed to deliver significant improvements in results.

One of the Government's city academies is set to be failed by Ofsted inspectors, putting pressure on ministers to justify the controversial programme which is expensive but has so far failed to deliver significant improvements in results.

The £18m Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough, which was visited by Ofsted inspectors in March, was found to be failing to provide a good education.

Inspectors have sent their damning report to the school in draft form. The school - the first city academy deemed to be failing - is likely to be put into "special measures".

Unity, which is backed by Amey, the building and support services group, has also run up debts of £1.5m since it opened three years ago. Its failure is the latest setback to hit the Government's academy programme. The Government has pledged to open 200 new academies - privately sponsored schools independent of local councils - by 2010. Seventeen academies are now open and 40 more are in development.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills confirmed that Unity had been judged to be failing by Ofsted. "Discussions are ongoing with [Unity] about the implementation of the financial recovery plan as well as the preparation of an educational action plan to address the issues raised."

Joe McCarthy, the chairman of the trust that runs the Unity academy, said the school had only received a draft report of the inspection findings and would not comment until the final report was published next month. He admitted the school had been running £500,000 a year over budget but said that plans were under way to address this by September.

Unity, which was formed by the merger of two struggling schools, has had a troubled history. It has been condemned for expelling high numbers of students. The school's results have failed to show significant improvement and just 17.6 per cent of students achieved five good GCSE passes last summer.

Eddie Brady, the headteacher for its first two years, resigned last autumn.

Even Rona Kiley, the director of the Academy Sponsors Trust, whose job it is to promote academies, has admitted: "Unity has been a problem school for us".

Unity was one of the first three academies along with Greig City Academy in Hornsey, north London, and the Business Academy Bexley in south

London.They opened in 2002. A hit squad had to be sent into Greig after it had been open for just six months. It has had three headteachers. Bexley was criticised by Ofsted last summer when inspectors found "serious weaknesses" in its teaching - the step above failing a school.

Sir David Garrard, the property millionaire who sponsors the school and is chairman of its governing body, threatened to take Ofsted to court claiming that it had not conducted and reported its inspection correctly.

Ofsted was forced to withdraw its original draft report. But it replaced it with a "monitoring letter" which also described "significant weaknesses".

Academies were designed to improve the performance of failing schools, often in the most deprived parts of England. To become an academy, a school must raise up to £2m from private sponsors. The government provides the remaining capital costs of around £20m.

The Commons Education Select Committee has questioned whether city academies are worth the extra investment.

MPs complained that there was no "coherent overarching strategy" to the investment.

They were unimpressed that of the first 11 academies, GCSE-level results had not improved at five and had become worse at some.

However, the Government has argued that it takes time to improve a failing school and that academies should not be condemned just because initial progress has been slow in some cases.

A spokeswoman for Ofsted refused to comment on Unity 's inspection until the report is published in June.

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