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'Force us down academy route and I'll quit': threat from the head of a leading state secondary

The head of one of the top state schools in the South West has threatened to resign if his school becomes an academy.

Elliott Furneaux, headteacher at Heathfield Community School in Taunton, Somerset, told The TES that he would be forced to quit his job of 12 years should his school follow government policy. Mr Furneaux - who also works on school leadership with the National College - said his governing body fully supported the decision not to become an academy.

He added that to do so would be to the detriment of other "weaker" schools in the local authority.

According to the head, Heathfield Community is among the top 3 per cent of schools in the country for student achievement. As an "outstanding" school it is automatically eligible to become an academy under new rules unveiled by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Mr Furneaux said: "I have made it clear to staff and governors that I would resign as head if the school was forced down this (academy) route at any point in the future because decisions taken by other schools had caused an effective collapse of central local authority services. It would not be fair to the school for me to remain in charge whilst implementing changes with which I so fundamentally disagree."

He added: "The question for us is, in the current financial climate, if there is significant advantage for us, what impact will this have on other schools in the local authority who are in a weaker position than we are?"

In an article to be published in The TES next week, Mr Furneaux will describe the coalition Government's decision to dramatically expand the academies programme as an "extremely dodgy prospectus" that is "fundamentally undemocratic".

Mr Furneaux's comments come as the London School of Economics' research body, the Centre for Economic Performance, issued a report claiming the academies policy would increase the divide between pupils from deprived communities and those who are better off.

The report states: "The new coalition Government's policy on academy schools is, not like the previous Government's policy, targeted at schools with more disadvantaged pupils. The serious worry that follows is that this will exacerbate already existing educational inequalities."

Two weeks ago, The TES revealed that the vast majority of schools that had expressed an interest in becoming an academy were from wealthy, middle-class areas.

Schools minister Lord Hill said in a statement that he expected schools to decide to become an academy only if it suited their own criteria.

"This is a genuinely permissive policy, there is no pressure for any school to convert by September, and they can do so at any time, when they feel they are ready," Lord Hill said. "We want schools to decide what's best for them, not politicians or bureaucrats."

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