Comprehensive to set up chain of academies

12th December 2008 at 00:00
State school principal unveils his vision for a 10-strong federation

A Yorkshire comprehensive is planning to become a major player in the academies movement by opening, sponsoring and running a 10-strong chain of the state-funded independent schools.

Outwood Grange College in Wakefield is already at the centre of a federation, having helped two secondaries to improve. One, North Doncaster Technology College, has just applied to become an academy, with Outwood Grange as its main sponsor.

Now Michael Wilkins, the federation's executive principal, wants to do the same for nine other secondaries. As a sponsor, his school is waived the Pounds 2 million per academy contribution expected from private business.

Other state schools have sponsored academies, but not on the scale envisaged by Mr Wilkins. "We talk about `moral purpose' a lot," he said. "But there are a lot of people who don't think about what it means in practice. We are clear: it is caring as much about the results of pupils in other schools as much as your own."

He developed his improvement methods while head of a comprehensive in Norton, North Yorkshire, and used it to turn around Outwood Grange within three years of becoming head in 2000.

The same plan - which includes strategies on curriculum, teaching, behaviour, pupil involvement, teacher training and leadership - achieved similar results at Harrogate High in North Yorkshire in just a year.

He said it had started to make a difference at North Doncaster in less than a term.

Mr Wilkins believes he can easily spread the method to other schools because he is nurturing school leaders within the federation and training them in the approach.

The soft federation - there is no joint governing body - already covers the three counties of West, North and South Yorkshire, with 38 miles between the Harrogate and Doncaster schools.

Even greater distances could be involved in the academies chain. Mr Wilkins sees it spreading across the Yorkshire and Humber region.

The chain of academies would function with a head in each, with three executive principals overseeing three or four schools each, and a chief education officer heading the whole operation.

Mr Wilkins wants Outwood Grange, already a trust school, to become an academy in its own right, but says it is not essential to his plans. He believes other schools will be receptive to his scheme.

"We are a state-school solution for state schools," he said. "Our underlying philosophy, which is very different from most academies, is that we don't have anything to do with selection - front or back door. We recognise the unions, we don't want a longer working week, and we won't do anything detrimental to any other school or pupil in the area."

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