School head advertises in 'Private Eye' for sponsors

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The Independent Online

A head teacher has advertised in the satirical magazine Private Eye for a "rich entrepreneur" to donate £50,000, after failing to raise the sponsorship needed to take part in the Government's flagship specialist schools programme.

The classified advert appears alongside invitations to meet "marriage-minded Thai ladies", offers of clandestine affairs and even a plea from a "hunky struggling scriptwriter" looking for a "rich bitch millionairess sugar mummy".

Anne Clarke, headteacher of Benton Park school in Leeds, advertised for a wealthy philanthropist to donate £50,000 after her school failed with more conventional means to clinch a sponsorship deal that would allow it to become a technology college. Her advert asks for "a firm believer in state education" to sponsor "an entrepreneurial state head to develop her school in a centre of excellence".

Mrs Clarke said: "I thought anything was worth a try. I haven't yet found a millionaire willing to invest in the school ­ but I haven't given up hope. It is very difficult for a school to attract the eye of business. It is getting increasingly difficult as there are now so many other schools trying to sign them up.

"I was hoping we could attract some rich entrepreneur who would be willing to donate £50,000, which they could write off against tax. Or if 50 companies could donate £1,000 this would help us enormously."

The school resorted to Private Eye after its original sponsors dropped out when its second bid for technology college status was rejected by the Department for Education and Employment. It needs to raise £50,000 by October.

The Government's education plans for its second term centre on a huge expansion of the specialist schools programme, which allows schools to concentrate on one subject area. But in return for the extra funding that comes with specialist status, each school must raise £50,000 from business sponsors. There are currently more than 500 schools specialising in technology, sport, languages or the arts but the Government intends to have 1,500 in place by 2006 ­ half of all secondary schools.

Benton Park, a suburban comprehensive, is already a beacon school, chosen by the Department for Education to work with other schools because of its high standards. But its bids for specialist status were rejected because officials ruled that its plans did not involve the wider community sufficiently. The school is contesting the decision.

Mrs Clarke said: "We are probably what Tony Blair would describe as a bog-standard comprehensive. We're not an inner-city school and it seems to be those in deprived areas that find it easiest to attract donors."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Many schools find it difficult to attract sponsorship in their area and have to resort to unconventional approaches."

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