When an independent school decides to go state-funded it is usually met with a chorus of approval from parents in the local area, who find that a “private” education is suddenly within their reach.
Numerous schools, including big names such as LiverpoolCollege, are already on the way to opening their doors to one and all. Some, such as Batley Grammar in West Yorkshire, have already converted and are hugely over-subscribed.
But while the process has been relatively smooth for most schools, it is not proving as easy for others. In North Tyneside a furious row has broken out between local and central government over the conversion of the private King’s School Tynemouth to a state-funded academy.
The school is due to re-open with state funding in September, absorbing the nearby local authority-run Priory Primary to create an all-through academy, King’s Priory. The new school will be run by the Woodard Academies Trust, the state-school arm of private school chain Woodard Schools.
But while the consultation for the project suggests that the majority of parents are in favour of the move, local councillors have tried to block the plans, saying they will disrupt the balance of school places in the local authority and starve good local secondary schools of pupils.
The council officially challenged education secretary Michael Gove’s decision to grant the school a funding agreement to open in September. But after reconsidering the scheme, ministers told the Labour council that the scheme will still go ahead, highlighting how keen successive governments have been for independent schools to play an increasing role in state education.
In a letter, schools minister Lord Nash said that any drawbacks of the scheme, including the creation of surplus places, were overridden by the overwhelming support from parents and staff at the two schools planning to merge.
In addition, he said he felt King’s Priory would help to drive up standards in other schools in the area.
Council chiefs are incensed by the response, accusing ministers of failing to properly reconsider their decision. A council statement said the speed of the decision “smacked of pre-determination.”
The Department for Education has responded that the speed of the decision stemmed from a desire to ensure minimal disruption to pupils.