Pay row dogs biggest academy

The city of Peterborough is an unremarkable place, with a 1980s shopping centre and a second division football team. Stuck on the edge of the Fens, its flatness and dreary housing estates might make it unappealing for the career-minded teacher. But all that could change when England's biggest academy opens in September.

The pound;46 million Thomas Deacon academy will cater for 2,200 pupils, almost double the number who can fit into the city's Norman cathedral. The school, sponsored by Perkins Engines and the charitable Deacon's Trust, hopes to lure talented teachers by offering inner-London salaries.

Normally,JanJordinary classroom teacher can expect to earn pound;28,707 after five years in the provinces,Jbut pound;32,820 in inner London.

But tempting wage packets will come at a price. Teachers will be expected to work up to 15 days extra per year, giving pupils booster classes and exam preparation.

Unions, already apprehensive about academies setting their own pay, have advised members against the new contracts.

Graham Bowes, divisional secretary for the National Union of Teachers in Peterborough, said he was urging the 120 teachers who are transferring to the academy from three local schools to stick to existing conditions documents. "We fear a gradual erosion of teachers' current terms," he said.

There have already been disputes over the pay and conditions set by other academies. Teachers at Unity city academy in Middlesborough campaigned for two years against extended hours.

Thomas Deacon's unusual blancmange-shaped building, designed by Foster and Partners, architects of the London Swiss Re "gherkin", is another reason why it has been controversial.

So is the closure of the two comprehensives it is replacing: John Mansfield school and Hereward community college.

But the new academy, being built on the site of Deacon's school, has proved popular with parents. There have been 500 applicants for 330 places, which will be banded to ensure a cross-section of abilities.

A catchment area boundary, which meant many poor Pakistani children could not apply, is being scrapped after claims it was racist.

Shazia Bashir, 30, moved five minutes down the road so her son would stand a better chance of getting in. "The policy was socially divisive," she said. "Some parents gave friends' or relatives' addresses because they were so desperate."

And concerns have been raised about the size of the school. But its principal, Dr Alan McMurdo, said pupils would benefit from having a greater choice of subjects, and fears about pupils becoming "lost in the crowd"

would be solved by a pastoral system of colleges.

Thomas Deacon will also be partnered with the nearby Oundle independent school, allowing staff and pupil exchanges between sites.

Dr McMurdo said the academy would try to help areas that lost neighbourhood schools by organising community centre projects.

He insisted that the high pay planned for teachers was sustainable.

"Independent schools have been doing this sort of thing for years," he said.

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