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Worry as sponsor takes over at schools; Trust had been warned not to over-reach.

Byline: Vicky Robson

FOUR schools set up by a businessman are to be taken over by an education trust which was last year told not to take on any more academies.

Sir Peter Vardy's Emmanuel Schools Foundation - which runs schools in Gateshead and Blyth - announced yesterday that it is hand over its four schools to the United Learning Trust (ULT), the country's largest sponsor of academies.

The move comes even though ULT was last year told by the then Department for Children, Schools and Families not to expand until it had corrected poor performance at two schools judged by Ofsted to be inadequate.

Sir Peter and his brother David, who run the Emmanuel Schools Foundation, have stepped down after spending 20 years involved in education and said they were confident ULT would continue their good work.

But teaching unions last night expressed alarm that ULT was being allowed to take over - with a glowing reference from current Education Secretary Michael Gove - so soon after being told to concentrate on its existing schools.

Vin Wynne, Northumberland secretary of the teaching union NUT, said: "It must be very unsettling for the staff and students in those schools to find out that the organisation running their school suddenly doesn't want to do it any more and has passed it on to another organisation.

"The relationship between the Emmanuel academies and the neighbouring schools hasn't always been the healthiest and we will be seeking to address that when ULT take over. It's a concern that the organisation was barred from expanding under the previous regime, though we would still be willing to work with the new sponsors to ensure that the successes achieved so far are continued."

Speaking to The Journal, Sir Peter said: "What we need to do is guarantee the future of the schools. This has been my baby and obviously you have to be careful who you hand your baby to.

"We are very confident that ULT fitted the bill. They share the same Christian ethos and life principles that we have."

ULT is the country's largest sponsor of schools in the UK with 17.

But last year it was told by then Schools Minister Vernon Coaker to "focus in particular now on its existing academies" after its schools in Sheffield were judged to be inadequate.

A spokeswoman for ULT said the organisation had worked hard over the past year to improve standards, resulting in Ofsted withdrawing notices to improve from the Sheffield academies.

She said: "Over the past year, there has been strong progress across the ULT group with some exceptional results.

"On average, there was an eight percentage point increase in the number of students achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths. This is three or four times the national average."

Mr Gove has paid tribute to the Foundation's achievements and said ULT would do a good job. He said: "I am enormously grateful to Sir Peter Vardy for the fantastic contribution that he and his organisation have made to the Academies Programme.

"His work has helped to transform the life chances of thousands of children in the north of England.

"By joining the United Learning Trust I know that Sir Peter's academies could not be in better hands."

PRAISE - AND CRITICISM SIR Peter Vardy founded Emmanuel College in 1988 as one of the country's first city technology colleges under the then Thatcher Government.

The school, which takes children from across Gateshead and the West End of Newcastle, has had consistently high exam results and has been rated as outstanding by Ofsted four times.

But has often courted controversy because of accusations - always denied by Sir Peter - that his strong Christian beliefs led to the teaching of creationism in the school. His foundation also set up city academies in Middlesbrough and Doncaster, and last year set up the all-age Bede Academy in Blyth, taking both primary and secondary school children.

But some local authorities in the North East were resistant to setting up academies with Sir Peter because of the Christian ethos he insisted on at his schools.

The United Learning Trust was established as a subsidiary of the United Church Schools Trust, which dates back to 1883 and is chaired by former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey.

It sponsors 17 academies and also runs a chain of 11 private schools.

CAPTION(S):

HANDING OVER Sir Peter Vardy at Emmanuel College in Gateshead CHANGE AT THE TOP Sir Ewan Harper, chief executive of United Learning Trust, centre left, and Sir Peter Vardy, founder of the Emmanuel Schools Foundation, at Bede Academy in Blyth, with students, from left, Jay Robinson, Katie Barratt, Elizabeth Cape, Josh Nairn, Kirandeep Grewal and Imogen Forsythe
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 9, 2010
Words:782
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