Football club to invest in schools

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Premiership champions Manchester United are to invest in a secondary school as part of the Government's specialist schools programme, it was revealed yesterday.

The football club is to provide pounds 100,000 in sponsorship for Ashton on Mersey School in Trafford. The school, one of six new specialist sports colleges, has strong links with Manchester United - two former pupils are members of the team.

The announcement came as Estelle Morris, the education minister, revealed plans for 33 specialist colleges for technology, arts and languages, bringing the total to nearly 300.

The colleges are part of a government initiative for the development of specialised facilities in schools. In each case, the Government matches private sponsorship pound for pound, and adds pounds 100 per pupil up to a maximum pounds 100,000 each year.

Since the scheme began in September 1993, more than pounds 30m has been raised from the private sector, an achievement with which Ms Morris professed herself to be "delighted" yesterday. But, she said, the involvement of the private sector is important "not just in terms of cash, but also because sponsors can work with and support their schools."

All state-maintained secondary schools are eligible, but they must first raise pounds 100,000 private-sector sponsorship and prepare a three-year development plan. In return, successful applicants receive a further pounds 100,000 capital grant from the Government. Yesterday's additions to the programme are the first since the relaunch of the scheme in the White Paper, Excellence in Schools, in July.

Education officials hope the scheme will benefit other local schools which will have access to the resources, facilities and expertise at the colleges.

The education minister said yesterday: "Our new criteria emphasises links with the community which will carry the benefits of specialism well beyond the school gates."