Union fears at surge in Sunderland schools becoming academies

Holley Park Primary School, Washington, was the first in the town to become an academy.
Holley Park Primary School, Washington, was the first in the town to become an academy.
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THE number of Sunderland schools reopening as academies has more than doubled in just 12 months, the Echo can reveal.

Union bosses today warned the proliferation of academies on Wearside is becoming a “worrying trend”.

Dated  09/12/2008''Sunderland City Council has invited delegates from around the country to the National Beacon event being held at the Stadium Of Light in Sunderland to share ideas on how partners can work together to address offending ...''Left to right ... Barbara Blyth who has gained help from Victim Support with Francis Done who is Chair of the Youth Justice Board and Pat Smith who is Lead Member for Childrens services at Sunderland City Coucil.''See Sunderland City Council Press Release ...'' NOT AVAILABLE FOR PRINT SALES

Dated 09/12/2008''Sunderland City Council has invited delegates from around the country to the National Beacon event being held at the Stadium Of Light in Sunderland to share ideas on how partners can work together to address offending ...''Left to right ... Barbara Blyth who has gained help from Victim Support with Francis Done who is Chair of the Youth Justice Board and Pat Smith who is Lead Member for Childrens services at Sunderland City Coucil.''See Sunderland City Council Press Release ...'' NOT AVAILABLE FOR PRINT SALES

Up until last year, just six schools in the city had official academy status.

But that figure doubled in 2012, with both primary and secondary schools re-opening as academies.

Concerns have been growing that the rising number is simply due to a financial boost schools receive by adopting the status.

Last year, three secondary schools, seven primary schools and two special schools all were granted academy status.

Howard Brown, joint divisional secretary for Sunderland NUT, said: “The schools are doing it for the extra money – it’s purely a financial motive.”

Others feel the transformation of schools can only benefit pupils.

Councillor Robert Oliver, leader of Sunderland Conservatives, said: “I’m much in favour of this system.

“It looks like we are getting to the stage where every secondary school in the city, with the exception of one or two will be an academy.

“The evidence is there in GCSE results, showing that schools with academy status are improving.

“Headteachers are more in control of their budgets and they are able to shop around for the best services.”

Academies are independent, state-funded schools, which receive their funding directly from central government.

Opponents of the system fear the snowballing number of academy schools will have a detrimental effect.

Mr Brown, a teacher at Hetton School, added: “In the past, school governors have always been able to turn to the local authority if there is a problem.

“But the board of directors at academies are far more accountable and very few of them are trained. It is a worrying trend. But in these austere times, schools are going for that little bit of extra money that academy status brings with it.”

A report from the Academies Commission this week suggested the rising number of schools with academy status could fuel rather than improve social segregation in Sunderland.

The report says some academies may “covertly” select pupils by using extra information on families or holding social events with prospective parents.

But Coun Oliver believes the transition for many Sunderland schools has been problem free.

He added: I think it is important that the local authority looks at what it can do to ensure it has a better relationships with schools once they become academies.”

Coun Pat Smith, cabinet member for Children’s Services at Sunderland Council, said: “It’s very much a decision for each individual school governing body on whether it wishes to proceed to academy status.

“The council continues to be committed to working in partnership with all schools whatever their status.

“This is to ensure the highest standards of educational attainment for all of Sunderland’s children and young people and ensuring the needs of our most vulnerable children are met.”

Twitter: @sunderlandecho.com

What are academies?

Academies receive their funding directly from central government.

They were originally brought in by Labour in a bid to improve struggling schools, primarily in deprived areas.

The policy has been altered and accelerated by the Coalition.

All primary and secondary schools are now invited to convert to academy status, but priority is given to those deemed by watchdog Ofsted to be “outstanding” or “performing well”

Education Secretary Michael Gove says academies will drive up standards by putting more power in the hands of head teachers

The number has grown dramatically under the Coalition Government, from 203 in May 2010, to 3,167 either open or in the pipeline, new figures show.

Failing schools have been specifically targeted for radical improvement.

The total number of sponsored academies is now 599, compared to 203 in May 2010.

In 2011, the GCSE results of sponsored academies open for at least two years improved almost twice as fast as those for all state-funded schools.

“We believe in trusting the professionals,” said Mr Gove.

“That’s why we gave teachers the opportunity to take on more freedom and responsibility and they have grabbed it with both hands.

“Many are now going even further and taking on responsibility for turning around less successful schools.

“These outstanding converters are becoming the new academy sponsors of the future raising standards across the state sector.”