Private schools to gve academies a helping hand

Schools minister Andrew Adonis today launched a prospectus encouraging successful private schools to get involved in academies, on the same day that the Girls’ Day School Trust announced that it is applying for Birkenhead High School to become the latest successful independent day school to convert to an academy.

Woodard Schools, the education trust whose private schools include Lancing, Ardingly and Hurstpierpoint Colleges in West Sussex, has also announced its plans to sponsor three academies in West Sussex in partnership with West Sussex County Council.

In his speech to the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) in Bournemouth, Adonis announced that more than 20 private schools or private school foundations are now engaged in 47 academy projects between them. The prospectus encourages other successful private schools to become academy sponsors or otherwise engage in academies.

The prospectus clarifies that private schools – alongside universities – will be able to sponsor academies without needing to provide the usual ?2 million sponsorship contribution.

Children, Schools and Families Secretary Ed Balls announced on 10 July that high performing schools and universities and colleges, because of the excellent educational credentials and benefits they bring to Academies, would not have to raise ?2 million.

In his speech to the HMC, Andrew Adonis says: “Successful independent schools will be exempt from the ?2m sponsorship requirement when they set up or support an academy. It is your educational DNA we are seeking, not your fee income or your existing charitable endowments.

“For an independent school wishing to extend its excellent provision more widely, an academy could offer a great opportunity. A large number of independent schools are already engaged, but all those with a contribution to make are welcome.

“Many independent schools believe that setting up a new academy helps to fulfil the original vision of their founders, to provide excellent education for the whole community rather than mainly to the children of those who can afford expensive fees.”

The new academy, if approved by the government after local consultation, would be the first “all-through” girls’ academy. The GDST said: “The new Academy will offer an exciting vision for the provision of first class education for future generations of children living in the Wirral, including those who wouldn’t normally be able to benefit from GDST’s expertise”.

Birkenhead MP Frank Field said: “I very much welcome the opening of discussions which may bring the school into the state sector as an independently-managed academy. Such movement into the state sector also blurs the sharp division between private and public education in this country which has worked to the detriment of so many children.”

Woodard Schools chairman David Bilton said of the West Sussex academy plans for Littlehampton, Lancing and Shoreham: “Woodard Schools has been working closely with the maintained sector for many years. Our 23 owned schools share best practice, experiences and pupil opportunities with many maintained schools across the UK. This is an opportunity to extend our mission.”

Last week Marlborough College announced its intention to form a partnership with the Swindon Academy, sharing professional expertise and offering joint opportunities to young people from both schools. The partnership will share teaching skills, expertise and facilities between the two schools.

Among 23 other private school sponsors or supporters of academies are Dulwich College, Wellington College, Tonbridge School and Harrow School.

Today’s prospectus sets out four ways that independent schools can get involved in the management of state-funded schools, by:

1. setting up, sponsoring and managing their own academies;
2. supporting an academy as a co-sponsor, bringing educational expertise;
3. becoming an academy in areas where there is a demand for high quality secondary school places – stopping charging fees and extending their intake to cover a wider social mix;
4. sponsoring a trust school maintained by the local authority to help it expand or enhance its provision.

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