CONTROVERSIAL plans for a second school academy in South Tyneside have been given the green light by church officials.
The Catholic Hexham and Newcastle Diocese has backed moves by St Joseph’s RC Comprehensive School in Mill Lane, Hebburn, to assume multi-academy status.
If the plans win Government approval, the 1,500-pupil school could become an academy as early as this summer, following the example of Whitburn Academy.
But opposition remains to the move, with St Joseph’s school governor Coun John McCabe denouncing the decision by diocese officials.
He said: “Not all bishops within the Catholic Church support school academies, and I’m disappointed by this decision by the Hexham and Newcastle Diocese.
“I have also spoken to people at some of the feeder schools around Hebburn and parents, who have expressed doubts about the plans.
“Academically, St Joseph’s is one of the best schools in the area and I basically don’t think it needs academy status, which I fear will see resources drained away from other local schools.”
Coun McCabe recently joined a lobby outside the school, along with members of the Public Service Alliance (PSA), including Unison officials, when the academy plan was approved by governors at St Joseph’s.
Union leaders argue academies lead to the ‘privatisation’ of education and drain money from state schools.
There was added anger about the academy plan, after £27m of public money was spent on transforming St Joseph’s over the last two years through the Government-backed Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.
But the move was given the blessing of diocese officials at a meeting on Thursday, with a formal letter about the decision due to be sent to the school within the next few days.
Terence Carney, chairman of governors at St Joseph’s RC Comprehensive, said: “As diocese education officials have backed the move towards academy status, it will now go to the Department for Education for final approval.
“The matter could be concluded by this summer, when St Joseph’s would officially become an academy.”
Supporters of the move say academy status will give the school more autonomy and greater financial security during what Mr Carney has called “very uncertain times.”
Local Catholic primary feeder schools could also become part of the new academy structure.