Emmanuel Schools Foundation

The Emmanuel Schools Foundation (ESF) is a charitable trust which has been involved in education since 1989.[1]

ESF currently run six schools. The four original members of the ESF are: Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead (opened 1990), The King's Academy in Middlesbrough (2003), Trinity Academy in Thorne, Doncaster (2005) and Bede Academy in Blyth, Northumberland which opened in September 2009. In 2004, the Foundation's former chairman, Sir Peter Vardy, discussed an aim to sponsor seven schools in the North of England that would educate a total of 10,000 students.[2] In April 2019, the ESF also formally adopted Joseph Swan Academy in Gateshead into the foundation. Most recently, the foundation adopted Christ's College Sunderland (formerly 'Grindon Hall Christian School') in Sunderland into ESF.

Many of its schools have been oversubscribed every year.[1][3]

Although the Government allows academies to select 10% of pupils by ability, ESF Academies do not do so, being fully comprehensive schools for local children. They have a Christian ethos, but are not faith schools and welcome staff and students of all faiths and of none.[4]


Establishment of Emmanuel College

In 1988, Sir Peter Vardy responded to the then Government’s appeal to local businessmen to become involved in the education of young people in the most socio-economically deprived parts of their home regions through sponsorship of the City Technology College initiative. The aim of the initiative was twofold:

  1. To engage business people who had been successful in turning around failing businesses in using their experience to help turn around failing schools, and
  2. To create beacons of academic excellence in inner-city areas which would be able to show other parents, teachers and students what was possible.[5]

The first ESF school, Emmanuel City Technology College, was founded in 1990 as Tyneside’s City Technology College and opened with just 150 students in Year 7. John Burn (Headteacher of Long Benton) had been instrumental in persuading Peter Vardy to engage in the CTC programme. Originally specialising in Technology, the College was awarded a second specialism in Business and Enterprise (2005), allowing it to build upon its Beacon School and current Leading Edge Status through its extensive work in delivering specialist teaching programmes within Primary Schools.


The foundation was formally established when The King's Academy was established in Coulby Newham, Middlesbrough in 2003, as one of the earliest schools built under New Labour's academies programme. Vardy pledged to eventually build seven academies.

The Foundation's approach was not universally welcomed, and in 2004 opponents blocked the Foundation's bid to take over Northcliffe School in Conisbrough, near Doncaster, which Ofsted had placed under special measures.[6] Instead, it took over Thorne Grammar School and redeveloped the site to create Trinity Academy in 2005.

In September 2009 ESF also opened its fourth school, Bede Academy, which is its first covering the whole school age range of 3-18,[3] with Nursery, Primary and Secondary provision across two sites in Blyth on the Northumberland coast. Specialising in Engineering and Enterprise, the school focuses on extending conventional perceptions of engineering by providing specialist insights into aspects of biotechnology, environmental science and recycling technologies, sound and computer network engineering, medical and animal science, and naval and automotive systems and design.

In September 2009 it was announced that David Wootton would join from the Grace Foundation to become ESF's first Chief Executive. In February 2010, the Foundation announced that Sir Peter Vardy was to step down as chairman, to be succeeded by his brother, David Vardy, who had previously been Project Director of the foundation, overseeing the building of the schools. The foundation celebrated its twentieth anniversary with a conference at The Sage Gateshead for the staff, including celebratory videos, musical entertainment from each of the schools, and keynote talks by author Gervaise Phinn and futurist Patrick Dixon, among others.

New oversight and developments

In October 2010 it was announced that Sir Peter Vardy was handing over management of the schools to the United Learning Trust.[7] The ESF schools were never integrated into the ULT network, however, and were ultimately later established as a multi-academy trust (MAT).

In April 2019, ESF formally adopted Joseph Swan Academy in Gateshead, after its being rated inadequate in a 2018 Ofsted inspection, with Emmanuel College vice-principal Mark Hall taking over leadership of the school. Later in 2019, Christ's College Sunderland in Sunderland was also brought into the multi-academy trust, with Bede Academy's vice-principal Julie Roberts becoming its head.

Academic successes

Emmanuel College claims that its students, taught as part of a mixed, non-selective comprehensive school, perform significantly above all value-add measures and their academic results have placed the College amongst the highest ranked schools in England for the past ten years.[8]

A 2009 report on The King's Academy by Ofsted referred to many improvements, with the school officially ranked as "good, with many outstanding features". Inspectors said the academy was exceptional when it came to boosting students' personal development and well-being, and offering them care, guidance and support.[9][10]


In 2002, a group of leading scientists including Richard Dawkins alleged that creationism was taught in biology classes at Emmanuel College.[11][12][13] Steven Layfield, the College's Head of Science and a Young Earth creationism activist,[14][15][16] had held a lecture urging teachers to promote creationism to pupils, parents, and colleagues, including in science classes.[17] Layfield later resigned from the board of creationist body Truth in Science[18] to state a separation between his private views and the school's teaching of science.[19]

After reviewing the material used to teach science at Emmanuel College, Mike Tomlinson, chief inspector of Ofsted, decided that the matter did not need to be pursued further.[20] The next Ofsted inspection in 2006 described the school as 'Outstanding' and found no problem with its science provision.[21]

In 2005, John Harris in The Guardian accused Emmanuel Schools Foundation of promoting fundamentalist Christianity.[22] In 2006 Rod Liddle interviewed ex-pupils for a Channel 4 Dispatches programme titled "The New Fundamentalists", alleging that their teachers had promoted creationism both in and out of class.[23]

However, a later article by Martin Wainwright, writing in The Guardian in December 2006, said that associating ESF's schools with creationism "couldn't be more wrong."[4]

Opponents of academies continued to refer to the original accusation.[24] After Tribune magazine published such an article in 2009, Peter Vardy took legal action against the magazine and its editor, who apologised, withdrew the allegations, and made an undisclosed payment to a nominated charity.[25]


  1. "Emmanuel Schools Foundation". The Vardy Foundation. Archived from the original on 3 January 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
  2. The lesson today, The Observer, 11 July 2004. Retrieved 22 April 2009
  3. Blyth academy proves popular a year in advance, The Journal, Blyth, 12 November 2008. Retrieved 1 April 2010
  4. They aren't faith schools and they don't select, The Guardian, 5 December 2006
  5. "History". Emmanuel Schools Foundation. Archived from the original on 7 October 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
  6. Blow for Blair as campaign stops sponsored school, Daily Telegraph, 15 October 2004. Retrieved 1 April 2010
  7. Academy sponsor steps down, Gazette, 13 October 2010. Retrieved 20 October 2010.
  8. Emmanuel College Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine on Emmanuel Schools Foundation website (retrieved 17 April 2009)
  9. Ofsted reports on The King's Academy
  10. King's Academy praised in Ofsted report, Teesside Evening Gazette, 4 March 2009
  11. "School attacked over evolution teaching". BBC. 14 March 2002. Retrieved 29 May 2008.
  12. Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. pp. 331–337.
  13. Dawkins, Richard (18 March 2002). "Young Earth Creationists teach bad science and worse religion". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  14. Paton, Graeme (6 October 2006). "Vardy link to drive on creationism". TES. TES Global Ltd. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  15. Layfield, Steve. "2nd Creation Activists Conference 1998: Creation Science - Getting the Message into Schools". Amen.org.uk. R H Johnston. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  16. Connor, Steve. "Website removes creationist lecture". The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  17. "The Bible versus science". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  18. Jackson, Nick. "Does creationism have a place in the classroom?". The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  19. "Science teacher quits faith pressure group". The Journal. 21 November 2006. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  20. "The Academies Programme". NAO. 23 February 2007. p. 35. Retrieved 20 October 2010.
  21. "Emmanuel College inspection report" (PDF). Ofsted. 2 May 2006. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  22. What a creation... The Guardian, 15 January 2005
  23. "Interviews with Former Vardy Schools Students". British Centre for Science Education. Retrieved 27 May 2011.
  24. E.g. Britain: The business of education under Labour, World Socialist Web Site, 27 March 2010. Retrieved 9 April 2010
  25. "Millionaire Teesside school sponsor wins legal battle". Evening Gazette. 5 November 2010. Archived from the original on 3 January 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2011. "(page 2)". Archived from the original on 3 January 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
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