A ROW has broken out over the revelation that GCSE results have fallen at schools near two controversial city academies.

Critics of the academy programme warned that the expensive, privately sponsored academies took in the most able pupils from neighbouring schools and lowered their results.

One of the Middlesbrough academies, King's, insisted none of its pupils taking GCSEs last year had been admitted from nearby comprehensives.

The comparison of results, released to MPs, revealed falling GCSE performances last year at two of the three secondaries nearest King's and Unity City academies.

In the case of King's, the number of pupils gaining five or more A* to C grades at GCSE at Newlands Catholic School fell from 48 per cent in 2003 to 43 per cent last year.

St David's Roman Catholic Technology College (down from 46 per cent to 34 per cent) also showed a decline, although performance improved at King's Manor School (up from 31 per cent to 37 per cent).

Unity City is also near Newlands and King's Manor. At its third neighbouring school -Ormesby -there was a fall from 24 per cent to 21 per cent last year.

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis said it was inevitable that city academies would attract the best pupils because they were new and usually offered better facilities.

He said: "A shiny new £20m school, with all the glitz that Labour has attached to academies, is bound to have a knock-on effect, because aspiring parents want to send their children there.

"If an academy is built in a community without proper planning, neighbouring schools that are struggling to raise performance and struggling to attract good staff will suffer."

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has passed a motion condemning the academy programme and demanding a halt to it.

Spokeswoman Nina Frank-lin said: "We have fears that academies cream off the best pupils. It is a real concern that this will have an impact on other schools in the future."

But King's Academy said last year's GCSE students had been from pupils at the two schools it replaced -Brackenhoe and Coulby Newham schools -not at neighbouring comprehensives.

A spokeswoman said: "We do not select pupils, so we do not cream off students from other schools. Our intake is based on catchment area alone."

No one was available to comment at Unity City Academy, which also replaced two schools. Last week, the Labour-dominated education committee heavily criticised the plans for 200 academies across England, because there was no firm evidence they raised standards.

The committee's report called for no more than 50 until the scheme had been thoroughly evaluated, and questioned the £5bn cost.

Critics of the programme have also highlighted how private sponsors can dictate the curriculum and appoint the governors while providing only eight per cent of the £25m cost of the schools.