Teaching union’s concern over South Shields school’s academy plans

Jill McManus of the NUT is concerned at St Wilfrid's plans to become an academy.
Jill McManus of the NUT is concerned at St Wilfrid's plans to become an academy.

A teaching unions says it has major concerns over plans for a South Tyneside school to become an academy.

Headteacher Brendan Tapping yesterday revealed his aims to turn St Wilfrid’s RC College in South Shields into an academy.

Our belief is, if it isn’t broke then why fix it? It’s doing well as it is. There’s no guarantee that an academy status will raise standards.

Jill McManus, National Union of Teachers

He hopes the change will enable the school, in Temple Park Road, to maintain and repair buildings, and a consultation process is under way.

However, Jill McManus, divisional secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in South Tyneside, says becoming an academy is no guarantee a school will prosper.

She said: “St Wilfrid’s is a good school and there’s no clear financial advantage of becoming an academy.

“Our belief is, if it isn’t broke then why fix it? It’s doing well as it is. There’s no guarantee that an academy status will raise standards.

“This is the very start of the consultation, and we just hope that both sides have their opinions listened to very carefully before any decisions are made.”

Coun Joan Atkinson, lead member for children, young people and families on South Tyneside Council, also urged Mr Tapping to think very carefully and explore other options before committing to the academy route.

She says the local authority would be very sorry to see the school leave its ‘family’ if St Wilfrid’s does become an academy.

She said: “We prefer the local authority-maintained model of education because we believe that we are stronger together.

“We would urge parents and the governing body to think very carefully about the benefits of local authority support, such as the very effective support offered to St Wilfrid’s during the period when it was recovering from being placed in special measures.”

Coun Atkinson added: “We understand that the school believes academy status would facilitate better access to capital funding to help it expand.

“However, as the Conservative manifesto clearly states that this funding would be available to all schools, we would urge St Wilfrid’s to explore other options to help realise its expansion ambitions.”

Mr Tapping says that while the consultation is in its early stages he is looking forward to hearing the views of his colleges, parents, students and stakeholders in the very near future.

Youngsters took home letters to their parents and carers yesterday.

He said: “We began our academy consultation process this morning and held a staff briefing before school to inform the staff of our intentions.

“Pupils and parents were also informed.

“As it is very early in the process, we have had no feedback as yet, but look forward to hearing the views of our staff, parents/ carers and other stakeholders in the very near future.”

South Tyneside’s seven academy schools.

When Whitburn C of E School became an academy in January 2011, it was the first voluntary-aided (VA) school in the country to do so.

It was also the first in the borough to successfully apply for academy status, although others have since followed, including St Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Mill Lane, Hebburn.

A number of primary schools have also gained the status, including Cleadon Church of England Academy School, Monkton Junior and Monkton Infant School in Jarrow, Holy Trinity Church of England Academy School in Brockley Avenue, South Shields, and Ridgeway Academy School in Park Avenue, South Shields.

The academy policy was brought in by the last coalition government during the summer of 2010.

It removes schools from local authority control and gives them the freedom to spend their own budgets.

Academies are, in effect, public-funded independent state schools.

Funding is still in line with the formula adopted by the local authority for the schools within its boundaries.

Academies receive some of the funding previously retained by the local authority for central functions and services.

This amount differs substantially across different local authorities.

Academies have more responsibility, particularly for teaching, budgets, staffing and estates/property.

They receive their funding directly from the Government and can buy services from a range of providers (such as music, legal, payroll).