A SOUTH Tyneside councillor has accused a school of ‘anti-Christian’ behaviour after it launched plans to become an academy.
St Joseph’s RC Comprehensive has begun consultation on a bid to become a multi-academy site, moving it away from local authority control.
Coun John McCabe, a governor at the school in Mill Lane, Hebburn, has hit out at the move, with union bosses also expressing concern.
But chairman of governors Terence Carney says the school will remain at the heart of the community, but will have greater stability.
Consultation with affected parties – staff and parents of the 1,500 pupils – got under way earlier this month and will continue until February 8.
A governors meeting on February 11 will decide whether to go ahead.
The school was given £27m of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) cash for rebuilding in 2009, with work completed last summer.
Academies are independent of council management and directly funded by Government, with private sponsorship also available. Multi-academy sites can integrate primary schools.
But Coun McCabe, who represents Hebburn South, is furious at the news.
He said: “I am very, very anti-academy. It is anti-Christian. It is an elitist system. It goes against the Catholic ethos. It will suck in all the best staff and pupils, away from other schools.
“Education should be the same standard for everyone. The school has also been rebuilt under South Tyneside Council and now could be moving away from the local authority.
“It’s like me giving you a Ferrari for Christmas and then asking for you a lift, and you saying you cannot.”
The decision to explore academy status won the go-ahead after a governors’ meeting at the end of 2012.
Mr Carney, chairman for 18 years, says academy status is in the best interests of the school and community.
Mr Carney said: “The issue was raised more than 18 months ago.
“We sought guidance from the Catholic Education Service and the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle Diocese.
“Only when we were made aware academy status would be acceptable did we proceed to investigate it.
“It is a voluntary-aided school, but controlled and directed by the Bishop and trustees of the diocese.”
Mr Carney says discussions were put on hold after the retirement of headteacher Dr Joe Campbell last summer, but re-started after successor Frank O’Neill was appointed in September.
He added “St Joseph’s is an integral part of the community and we are here to help and serve the area in the most effective way we can.
“Academies have a greater degree of freedom in setting curriculum and deciding funding. It will give us stability as we will be able to have a greater control of our own destiny. It will be financially beneficial.
“Finances are the lifeblood of the school and allow us to carry out our work as effectively as possible.
Mr Carney says a multi-academy status will allow primary schools in the area to become part of the academy status, but only if they choose to.
He pledged a move to academy status would not affect the current wages and benefits of staff at the school.
Whitburn C of E and Monkton Juniors are the only schools in the area who have switched to be academies.