Protests put kibosh on planned academy

16th January 2009 at 00:00
Council opts for National Challenge Trust model after opposition from teachers and community

Controversial plans to open an academy in Derby have been overturned following a series of teacher strikes and vociferous opposition from members of the local community.

Sinfin School, which had been scheduled to become an academy in September, will now be turned into a National Challenge Trust. It is believed to be the first time that academy plans have been abandoned in favour of the new trust model.

Staff at the school staged a series of strikes against the proposal to turn it into an academy sponsored by Derby College.

A consultation run by the council also came out strongly against the plan. Of the 883 responses received by the local authority, 793 were opposed to the plans.

The original decision to turn Sinfin into an academy was announced by the then Labour-run local authority in 2007. But following elections last year, the council became controlled by the Liberal Democrats.

Les Allen, the current cabinet member for children and young people, said the National Challenge provided alternatives to the academy route. "We have always been a strong supporter of the school and recognise improvements have been made in the face of many challenges," he said.

Teaching unions welcomed the decision to drop the academy proposals, with Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, describing it as a "vote for state education".

"The success of this campaign will undoubtedly inspire others to make a principled stand," she said. "It demonstrates that local communities can make a real difference."

Ms Keates had received an assurance for the council from Jim Knight, the schools minister, that dropping the academy plans would not prevent the authority from receiving money to refurbish its other secondary schools.

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the NUT, said it proved that academies were not "inevitable".

National Challenge Trusts were launched by the Government last year as an option for schools where fewer than 30 per cent of pupils achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths.

Schools failing to meet the 30 per cent target have been told by ministers that they could face closure.

The idea of the trusts is to partner schools below the threshold with high-achieving schools. Up to Pounds 1 million is available in extra funding to cover the costs of partnering and to pay for additional staff.

Sinfin School hit the 30 per cent target in last year's GCSE results, but the council believes it is unlikely that it will meet the target over the next few years unless it gets additional support.

A partner for Sinfin has not yet been announced, but the local authority said significant changes are needed if the school is to improve.

Ian Jennison, NUT divisional secretary in Derby, said plans to turn Sinfin into an academy had caused "great resentment" among the school's staff.

"The staff will be very happy at the move away from academies," he said.

"Their jobs will all be protected, and by becoming a National Challenge school Sinfin will still fall under the local authority's umbrella of schools."

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