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Education secretary David Blunkett defended the government's direct funding of the new city academies, designed to ...
Education secretary David Blunkett defended the government's direct funding of the new city academies, designed to improve standards in deprived inner city areas. And he revealed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the first three schools would be in Liverpool, Lambeth, and Willesden in Brent LBC's area.

The schools will be funded, built and managed by government and any combination of the private sector, charities and churches. They are intended to provide innovative teaching in specialist areas such as languages, sports or technology.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, said teachers had grave reservations about the new category of schools and were concerned they would divert funds from the majority of other pupils. 'The question other teachers will be asking is 'Why should certain schools be given a special status, be given quite substantial additional resources?'', he added.

'And I don't think it is necessarily going to be the case that they will be serving just the deprived youngsters of inner city areas. My great fear is that in some of the areas where they are being proposed they will become semi-grammar schools, specially selective, and begin to attract youngsters from all round the area and therefore, eventually, they will win the places and once again the inner-city youngsters might may well be forced out'.

Mr Blunkett said for the first time a government would have a direct interest and an ability to influence events. 'Not simply by funding the running costs of the school - which we will be doing directly rather than through the education authority budget - but also by being hands-on in terms of the setting up of the school, and that's what we have not had in the Fresh Start proposals. Secondly, other partners - sometimes business and voluntary groups, and sometimes churches as in Liverpool - will be engaged as a partner, with the local authority's engagement as well, but with local people,' he explained.

He said the city academies in Liverpool, Lambeth and Brent were not out-of-area schools, but were 'serving deeply deprived areas and their admission policy will engage all the children of that locality'.

Asked whether the government would direct the academies' priorities, Mr Blunkett insisted it would be a partner. His Conservative predecessor Gillian Sheppard had said that government traditionally eulogised about what they wanted to do. 'We are the first government - through the 1998 education Act - to actually take power to do something about it'.

The sponsors' contribution was real money and amounted to 20% of establishment costs, either in new build or refurbishment. They would contribute to the academies' specialisms - for example,sport in Willesden through Frank Lowe's involvement, and manufacturing and industry in Liverpool through the involvement of Marconi and other companies. This approach reflected the belief that one pattern did not fit all.

Mr Blunkett insisted new academies could not go into areas where there were surplus places and cream off children. He added: 'That is part of the agreement with the sponsors and supporters. So we are not going to have that. We have put separate money aside as part of the major drive to revamp and refurbish inner-city education, which by anybody's standards has been neglected over the years'.

Asked whether the academies might cream off the best pupils and teachers, Mr Blunkett replied: 'We can't have it both ways. We can't have preference for parents - obviously and self-evidently wanting to get their children into a good school...It seems to me people want it both ways. The articulate and well-off want to move into areas where they can get a good education for their children. Let us all be concerned for those who can't'.

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