Sponsored City Schools Are to Spread despite a Poor Report

Article excerpt

Byline: SARAH HARRIS

MORE [pounds sterling]25million city academies are on the way despite a report highlighting problems with their performance.

The privately- sponsored schools have proved popular with parents and pupils.

But a report by the accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers concluded that it was too early to say whether they were actually improving results.

Only six of the 11 academies studied had improved GCSE results since the Government programme began in 2002 up until last summer.

The report identified a 'number of not insignificant challenges' including problems with bullying, staff relations and impractical buildings.

Ministers released the report's positive findings ahead of its publication to endorse their plans to press ahead with 200 city academies in England by 2010. There are currently 17. But critics accused the Government of 'spin' as it neglected to volunteer more critical points which could undermine the drive for more academies.

The city academy programme has been personally endorsed by the Prime Minister and is the brainchild of his former education adviser Andrew Adonis, now a junior Education Minister.

The [pounds sterling]5billion scheme - designed to replace failing inner-city schools - has proved controversial, with teaching unions claiming they are a 'fundamental threat' to state education.

City academies can be set up in exchange for [pounds sterling]2million from private sponsors who then get a big say in their operation.

The rest of the set-up costs are paid by the Government, typically totalling [pounds sterling]25million, although they are independent of the rest of the state sector.

They also gain freedom from local authority control.

The Government-commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers report said it was 'too early to say anything with certainty' on whether the academies had improved exam performance.

It looked in more detail at the three academies launched in 2002 - Unity City Academy, Middlesbrough; Greig City Academy in Hornsey, North London, and the Business Academy Bexley in South London.

Two - Greig City and Business Academy Bexley - had boosted the numbers of pupils gaining at least five A* to C grades at GCSE between 2002-3. …