Doubts grow over city academies

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair has been warned about plans to expand his flagship academy programme after one of the controversial new schools became the first to be failed by Ofsted inspectors.

Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough was judged to be failing after inspectors observed poor teaching, weak leadership and a hard core of badly behaved pupils.

The report, published yesterday, cast doubt on wider aspects of the Government's £5bn programme, including the academies' architect-designed buildings and financial management. Inspectors concluded that Unity's £22m buildings,completed only last year, were impressive but impractical.

The school has no staff room while the dining room is too small for pupils to eat in comfort. The lack of a playground in particular was "contributing to the negative attitudes of the pupils". Critics argue that the millions spent on futuristic buildings will not raise standards and is creating a two-tier system by taking money from other schools.

The school, which was one of the first three academies and opened in 2002, has also been allowed to run up a £1.5m deficit, which Ofsted said left it in a "serious" financial situation and unable to target spending to raise standards.

Mr Blair has pledged to open at least 200 by 2010. They were the brainchild of Tony Blair's former education adviser Andrew Adonis, who was made a peer and a junior Education minister earlier this month.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "This really must be a wake-up call ... As an initiative, this is going nowhere. I don't think academies are going to work. Ministers need to call a moratorium on the expansion of academies until there has been a rigorous evaluation."

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, called for a halt to their expansion until "a proper analysis can be done".