School first in its league to seek academy status

3rd April 2009 at 01:00
Programme takes radical new direction as outstanding comprehensive opts to sponsor itself

One of the country's leading comprehensives is set to be the first outstanding state school to become an academy.

Outwood Grange College in Wakefield will also be the first to sponsor itself in an attempt to create a local chain of 10 academies in five years.

Those involved with the project claim it is a "radically" different approach. Until now, the academies scheme has aimed to turn around schools with a long history of underperformance. Instead Outward Grange wants to share its excellence and become what has been termed an "academy of excellence".

The college, one of the largest secondaries in the country, is already rated as outstanding by Ofsted and is one of the best-performing in the area.

Michael Wilkins, executive principal, said he believed his school must become an academy if it was to sponsor the others he wanted in the chain.

Mr Wilkins said: "We strongly believe in what we are doing here. Academies do great things in areas of deprivation and we want to be part of that.

"Being an academy will give us the freedom to bring in curriculum changes. It's a great movement to be part of. We realised it would be easier for us to support an academy if we became an academy too."

Elaine McHale, Wakefield Metropolitan District Council's director of children's services, said she hoped the scheme would mean academies were now "not tarred with failure but with excellence".

"Having no National Challenge schools in Wakefield there was no push from anyone else for this academy," she said.

Jim Walkden, Outwood Grange's chair of governors, said: "We wanted to keep the school among ourselves; we are not after money, just the chance to share our expertise.

"We won't start selecting pupils and will work with the local authority's admissions and exclusions policy.

Paul Makin, the district council's service director of schools and lifelong learning, said: "The development of the academy of excellence would provide an opportunity for Wakefield to disseminate its good practice more widely."

"A spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said it was still working on project details. The idea for an academy of excellence followed a brainstorming session about the system in June 2007.

"High-performing schools are uniquely placed to act as sponsors . which is why we announced that these institutions will no longer need to provide financial sponsorship in order to become involved with the programme."

The academy should open in its existing buildings in September 2009.

Some high-performing city technology colleges rebranded themselves as academies after they were introduced, but Outwood Grange is the first outstanding comprehensive to move into the system.

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