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Globe Academy sponsor heckled at Tate Modern debate

Financier Arpad Busson, founder of the ARK charity which sponsors the city academy replacing Geoffrey Chaucer School, was heckled by noisy demonstrators at a debate at Tate Modern on Wednesday night.

Model of the new Globe Academy on Harper Road
Model of the new Globe Academy on Harper Road

Mr Busson, who is known as Arki, was taking part in a debate organised by the Evening Standard on the question "Should the City give more to good causes?"

His ARK – Absolute Return for Kids – charity is sponsoring the Globe Academy, the new 3-19 school that will replace Geoffrey Chaucer Technology College and Joseph Lancaster Primary School from September 2008. ARK is also the sponsor of the Walworth Academy which has replaced Walworth School.

When Mr Busson began to speak two noisy hecklers stood up and unfurled placards. The demonstrators were trade union activists protesting against ARK's plan to sponsor the Wembley Academy in Brent.

The noisy scenes continued for several minutes as the protesters demanded to know whether Mr Busson is a UK taxpayer. Evening Standard city editor Chris Blackhurst, who was chairing the debate, implored the demonstrators to sit down. When they refused, debate organisers summoned Tate security staff who escorted the protesters from the building.

Later in the event Busson answered questions from another anti-academies protester. He told the audience of invited guests and Evening Standard readers that "It is a crime not to try to do something," when so many young people leaving school currently lack basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Mr Busson also rejected claims that the city academy model amounts to a privatisation of education: "ARK is an apolitical charity," he said.

"Our mandate is to try to make a difference on an educational level at an individual school and it's not done by one individual, it's done in partnership with the Government, so I'm not looking at this as a privatisation of those academies – they are run with public money, so they are not privatised."

Other panelists included philanthropist and Tate trustee John Studzinski, who has given 5 million to Tate Modern's proposed extension, and Camila Batmanghelidjh, whose Kids Company charity operates in Camberwell and Bermondsey's Decima Street.

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