Blair backs city academy programme as opposition grows

The government is to forge ahead with its policy of planning independently-funded city academy schools, despite widespread opposition from  head teachers and teaching unions.

Announcing a drive for more academies as a key plank of his education reform agenda yesterday, the prime minister Tony Blair roundly rejected criticisms that the policy handed too much power to private sponsors.

The announcement came as a survey of headteachers found just 6% supported the controversial scheme, and the Secondary Heads Association cautioned against further reforms

The former education secretary Estelle Morris, warned that the plans were a potential “distraction” from the job of achieving high standards, but Blair said yesterday that the scheme effectively provided the ability to create free independent schools which had the capacity to help the poorest children.

Morris said there was a danger that disadvantaged children would not get access to the schools.

But Mr Blair said the academies were designed to “escape the straitjacket of the traditional comprehensive school and embrace the idea of genuinely independent non-fee paying state schools”.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said further reforms, which have received the backing of the Conservative leadership candidate and shadow education secretary David Cameron, were the last thing schools needed.

“The reform agenda for secondary schools is dangerously overloaded,” he said. Warning the prime minister that academies must work with neighbouring schools, he said: “Our support for the academy programme depends on the extent to which they are brought into the local family of schools.”

The government wants 200 academies to be up and running, or under construction, in poorer areas by 2010. Although state-funded, for a contribution of £2 million private sponsors will have a major say in how academies are run.

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