Elite free school planned for Sheffield

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AN ELITE free school is being planned in the north of Sheffield, offering traditional A-level courses to some of the city’s brightest pupils.

Chapeltown Academy will be a sixth-form college designed to prepare students for the nation’s top universities and professions.

Proposals are being drawn up by a committee of academics, including Sheffield-based teachers, who believe there is a gap in education provision for gifted youngsters in the north of the city.

In a five-mile radius of Chapeltown there are 12 secondary schools but only one sixth form, at the newly-formed Forge Valley School in Stannington.

Most 16-year-olds go on to college at Longley Park or Hillsborough, or have to travel miles across the city each day to one of the schools with a sixth form.

“That speaks volumes about what’s required,” said Tom Beaumont, a steering committee director and currently a teacher in Bradford.

“Vocational courses serve a purpose and the current facilities in Sheffield are more than adequate. But traditional A-levels can really make a difference to certain pupils and we feel that provision is lacking.”

The steering committee claims that the number of students going to university in this area is dropping and its college would act as a beacon for those with a higher education goal.

The vision is to provide an elite 16-19 college, state funded and accessible to all.

It would aim to increase young people’s aspirations to attend Russell Group universities by providing academically rigorous A-levels taught to an exceptionally high standard.

It would also prepare students to be professionals by equipping them with ‘soft’ skills such as social and organisational ability.

A supportive environment would help students to make the transition from GCSE to A-level and a diverse programme of extra-curricular activities would encourage them to realise their potential outside the classroom.

“This is something unique in the area,” said Mr Beaumont. “It’s a massive opportunity to do something that’s big.

“We’re looking at traditional values and hard-working individuals. But instead of more affluent communities, we’re trying to address educational disadvantage by providing an excellent learning support centre in the heart of an area where there’s a lack of social mobility.”

Initially, 12 subjects would be offered, with around 12 students studying each. Allowing for AS and A2 level, that would create a college community of no more than 250 students.

Premises will be sought in the Chapeltown area.

Parents and potential students will have a first chance to hear about the proposals at a public meeting at Tankersley Manor Hotel next Thursday (July 19) at 7pm.

The meeting aims to introduce the proposals to potential students and their families. Those that are interested will be asked to sign up via a website, www.chapeltownacademy.com.

If sufficient interest is expressed, an official application will be submitted to the Department For Education by the end of the year and a formal interview of the steering committee would be likely to take place next spring.

A decision on whether to back the academy should be given by summer 2013, with a view to opening in September 2014 – when current Y8 and Y9 students will be entering the sixth form.

“We’re very excited about this,” said Mr Beaumont. “We expect this academy to become a beacon in the north of Sheffield.

“This is a sustainable project financially because we’re going to be providing people who have the soft skills as well as the academic attainment to ensure that Sheffield has the next generation of professional and skilled workers.”