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Ability not faith is key, says academy

Middlesbrough's new school denies that it is favouring Christian teachers. Cherry Canovan reports

A NEW city academy has denied that it is appointing teachers because of their religious beliefs.

King's Academy in Middlesbrough, which is due to open next year, has been accused of bias towards Christians by some staff members from the schools it is replacing.

The Vardy Foundation, which has given the school pound;2 million, also sponsored the controversial Emmanuel College in Gateshead, which was embroiled in a row earlier this year when it was reported that it taught creationism alongside evolutionary theory.

Teachers who approached The TES voiced fears that the new school was being staffed with those known to be active in the Christian community. But the Vardy Foundation, which is sponsoring the new school to the tune of pound;2 million, denied the allegations.

David Vardy, project director for King's Academy, said: "Any suggestion that selection of staff is based on any other criteria than merit is wrong. We have made abundantly clear in all our discussion with the teaching unions that appointments will be made solely on the basis of ability - nothing else."

Emmanuel's headteacher is on the appointment committee for staff at King's Academy, while several governors also have links to the college. The Vardy Foundation said this was "to be expected given that the foundation's academic resources have been developed there".

Parents' groups and teachers have also expressed concern about the Christian ethos of the school, the extent of which, they claim was not made clear.

But Mr Vardy, brother of Sir Peter, the head of the Vardy Foundation, said:

"It really is nonsensical to suggest that the foundation has failed to make clear its own Christian ethos - and that of the academy - at every stage of our involvement in the project.

"At meetings with the local community, in our newsletters and other publicity material, and in our prospectus, the ethos we wish to develop at the a`cademy has been explained fully."

Parents were concerned that there would only be one parental representative on the governing body, who has not yet been appointed.

But a spokesman for the academy said: "It is not possible to appoint a parent governor until the school is actually up and running and a parent base has been established. However, a parents' consultative group which is involved closely in the planning for the academy, has been in place for several months now."

Responding to claims that it had played down links between the new school and Emmanuel College, Middlesbrough Council said: "This is not Emmanuel College Middlesbrough. It is a separate entity which has been established under separate legislation and with a separate curriculum."

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