National academy for gifted pupils will be allowed to charge fees

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The Independent Online

An academy planned by the Government for the country's most promising pupils will be allowed to charge fees, the Department for Education and Skills said yesterday.

An academy planned by the Government for the country's most promising pupils will be allowed to charge fees, the Department for Education and Skills said yesterday.

The move is being opposed by teachers' leaders who claim it will be "a tax on talent" if students have to pay for courses.

Universities invited to submit bids to run the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth have been asked to consider what charges they could make. The academy will run summer schools offering master classes for the top 5 per cent of academically able youngsters aged 11 to 19. The plan is to stretch their intelligence while also offering them distance learning and residential courses in their best subjects.

Ministers stressed yesterday that no charge would be made on poorer students who they hope will be the main beneficiaries. However, a spokes-woman for the Department for Education and Skills said the academy would be able to charge fees. Details will not be known until ministers decide which tender to accept.

The spokeswoman said: "Those entering into the tendering process can consider the contribution that might be made to income through fees and charges associated with its services." There had to be a guarantee of no "disincentive to participation on the part of those from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds".

John Bangs, the head of education at the National Union of Teachers, accused the Government of "setting up the academy on the cheap".

Peter Lampl, the millionaire education philanthropist and chairman of the Sutton Trust, which runs schemes to help talented poorer pupils get into university, backed the idea of charging rich students.

He said, however, that the academy must operate a "needs-blind admissions" policy – one that admits pupils on their academic potential rather than their ability to pay. "The Government should support students who cannot afford to pay, otherwise it risks becoming a programme for well-off students, which is how these programmes operate in the United States," he said. Raising funds from businesses and charities to subsidise the academy would be difficult in the present climate.

Ministers are reluctant to give details of how the academy will be run because tenders for its operation are still being sought.

* Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University have claimed that one in nine specialist schools now selects pupils by aptitude compared with one in 14 four years ago. The findings will fuel complaints that the specialist school programme is producing a "two-tier" system.

Professor John Coldron, the head of the team, said: "When you've got a wholly selective system like the 11-plus, that's entirely transparent whereas with selection by aptitude, there is great variety and little accountability."

Meanwhile, figures out yesterday show that specialist schools' GCSE exam results were 10 per cent better than those for comprehensives.

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