College sells academy plan to safeguard tertiary system
A college has made the most ambitious bid yet to run academies after writing to nearly 100 schools in its local area asking them to consider joining it in a new trust.
Barnsley College sees the offer as a way to protect the tertiary system, which its principal Colin Booth believes is vital to the town's performance and efficiency in sixth-form provision.
At the moment, just two of the area's schools have sixth-forms and Mr Booth estimates that 80 per cent of the town's 16 to 18-year-olds study at the college at some point. If the schools were sponsored by outside organisations, they may face pressure to add their own sixth-forms, he said.
But with the proposal also extending to 81 primary schools, as well as secondaries and special schools, it would represent much closer working between the college and schools than ever before - even for a place where the college already boasts "completely open access" to the schools.
It could also go further than colleges such as Barnfield in Luton and Hull, which already sponsor academies in smaller numbers.
Mr Booth said: "It depends on the response to (our) letter: if two schools say they want to join a multi-academy trust, we would have to view that differently from 20 coming back to us. But it's entirely scalable.
"We have a pretty pure tertiary system. My view would be that's the system which works best. We are in a position where schools are going to be academies. If a multi-academy trust located elsewhere comes into Barnsley to run schools, it could destroy the tertiary system which has worked incredibly well."
He said the move was also driven by the clear desire of the Government to expand the number of academies as rapidly as possible.
Schools are invited to meetings at the college in late September and early October. But the Department for Education would need to approve the new trust as a sponsor, with the earliest possible launch date likely to be September 2012.
Mr Booth said some schools might prefer to be independent academies at first, but speculated that they may want to join a larger trust later.
Barnsley Council said it welcomed the approach by the college, despite its potential to supplant the local authority in education matters.
Councillor Linda Burgess, cabinet member for children's services, said: "It's entirely up to schools whether they become academies - that's the legislation. Barnsley College has an outstanding Ofsted report only recently and it's a great addition to the educational offer."
She said the college would have to convince DfE officials that it had the capacity to oversee the improvement of multiple schools.