Universities cool on invitation to help run new trust schools

October 28, 2005

Universities are unlikely to want to get "deeply involved" in running schools, the Government was warned this week as it unveiled education reform plans.

A White Paper published on Tuesday by Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, hints that universities - along with charities and faith groups - might be interested in running "trust schools".

Trust schools would have more freedom to run their affairs than state schools have at present and would have an external backer, such as a university, to help create "a strong school ethos, help to invigorate school governance and leadership and provide direction and focus".

But Michael Driscoll, chairman of Campaigning for Mainstream Universities, representing post-92 institutions, said: "I'd be very surprised if many universities wanted to go down the road of getting deeply involved in running schools. They might respond to the call for more involvement in governing bodies and staff training. But it's not what we are about.

"There would also be questions of fair access; I guess there would be a presumption that kids from a local school run by a university would have access to places."

Universities UK gave the White Paper a cautious welcome.

"A number of universities are already involved in partnerships with schools to deliver initiatives for widening access through outreach work," a spokesman said. "The suggestions in the government's White Paper go beyond that and would need further scrutiny."

The White Paper suggests that universities may be talent-spotted to work with schools, and it details plans to appoint a commissioner to match schools with backers.

Trust schools will own their assets, run their own admissions - although selection by ability will not be allowed - and may "vary the National Curriculum to suit their circumstances and ethos".

Under the Government's existing city academy scheme, the University of the West of England has been involved in an academy in the St George's area of Bristol, providing school governors and advice about its building projects.

Rob Cuthbert, deputy vice-chancellor of UWE, said: "It's part of a broader commitment to working with secondary schools in Bristol and the West of England. We see it as absolutely crucial to widening participation in higher education."

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