Education chiefs in Birmingham have come under fire for using taxpayers' money to underwrite the £2 million sponsorship needed to turn a city school into an academy.

Sheldon Heath School is one of seven secondaries in Birmingham earmarked to become an academy under the Government's programme to tackle under-achievement.

The drive normally involves £2 million being stumped up towards creating the new school by sponsors who in return effectively gain control of its assets and governing body.

Sheldon Heath is being sponsored by Birmingham's King Edward VI Foundation of five grammars and two fee-paying schools.

But the foundation has refused to provide cash, claiming finances are committed to its schools.

As a result, Birmingham City Council has decided to underwrite the £2 million, which will go towards an endowment fund for the benefit of pupils.

The National Union of Teachers, which is opposed to the academy programme, last night attacked the move. Lynn Collins, Midland regional secretary of the NUT, said: "The Government says academies bring new money into education. But if it is not bringing it in, it defeats the whole objective of it."

Council leader Mike Whitby (Con Harborne) yesterday insisted there was nothing wrong with the city committing public money.

He claimed it helped to highlight the faith the city had in the controversial programme which critics claim opens the door for all kinds of organisations to gain influence over schools.

"Other authorities have underwritten academies," he said.

"Manchester has underwritten every one of its academies. After that they have dove-tailed in the appropriate sponsorship.

"There is no fear of not raising the sponsorship. We are giving confidence to everyone that the academy concept is one that we are carrying forward."

A full feasibility study and consultation will now take place into creating the Sheldon Academy.

The Government's academy programme has shifted in recent times to allow high-quality educational institutions such as universities that do not want to supply £2 million to get involved."