Murdoch presses on with academy plan despite hacking row

School sponsored by News International still on track after series of meetings between media tycoon and Michael Gove

Richard Garner
Saturday 06 August 2011 00:00
Rupert Murdoch with Joel Klein, former head of New York's education board, who is in the UK to investigate hacking
Rupert Murdoch with Joel Klein, former head of New York's education board, who is in the UK to investigate hacking

Rupert Murdoch's News International has plans to sponsor an academy, with a possible location in east London, near the media company's Wapping headquarters.

A Murdoch academy in the UK is likely to focus on developing pupils' technology skills.

In the US, News Corp has recently appointed Diana Rhoten, an expert in designing products for digital learners, as the senior vice-president of its education division.

Tower Hamlets, where News International's newspapers are based and which is one of the country's most deprived areas, said it had invited discussions over proposals to site a News International academy in Newham or its borough – but at that stage the preferred site was in Newham.

Tower Hamlets has a history of scepticism about the value of academies – rejecting an approach by Goldman Sachs to sponsor one five years ago.

The mayor, Lutfur Rahman, said: "I believe our existing family of schools supported by the council best serve the interests of the community.

"We are widely seen as one of the most improved education authorities in the whole country. We achieved our best ever GCSE results last year."

Mr Murdoch's proposal was one of the reasons why the newspaper tycoon met the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, so many times during the past year.

News International is reluctant to comment publicly on the detail of the discussions, against the toxic backdrop of the phone-hacking scandal.

Mr Murdoch has been keen to promote the importance of being involved in education in recent speeches. Earlier this year, he appointed Joel Klein, the former head of New York's board of education, to News Corp, which is based in the city. Mr Klein, who is now in the UK heading internal investigations into the hacking of voicemail messages, is known to be close to Mr Gove because of his role in setting up charter schools in the US.

The schools, run along the lines of the free schools planned by Mr Gove – which will open for the first time in September – have been praised by the Education Secretary for their contribution to raising standards in inner-city districts of the US.

Mr Klein was the guest speaker at the first conference on free schools set up by Mr Gove's department in London earlier this year.

A list of ministerial meetings with media representatives published last week in the aftermath of the phone-hacking revelations showed that Mr Gove has had more meetings with News International since the last election than any of his colleagues. He met executives 21 times – including six breakfasts, lunches or dinners with Mr Murdoch himself. There was also a three-day series of meetings on free schools with Mr Klein.

Mr Gove is a former employee of News International, having worked on The Times.

The Education Secretary has made the expansion of the academies programmes one of his top priorities since coming to office – expanding it so that outstanding schools can now convert to academy status. However, the News International academy would be more likely to be run on the original lines, which sought to open new schools and improve standards in the inner cities.

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