Tapton prepares for academy move

ONE of Sheffield’s leading secondary schools is set to break away from local authority control, becoming the first in the city to take up the Government’s invitation to become an academy.

Tapton, at Crosspool, aims to adopt its new status from September – earning a bonus of more than £740,000 a year. But teachers have come down overwhelmingly against the move, claiming it puts short-term gain before long-term stability.

In a ballot of NUT and UNISON members at the school, only four were in favour of the change while 61 voted against it.

NUT secretary Toby Mallinson said: “It is shocking that Tapton School is leading in the break-up of our local education system. Even more so, because the majority of our local schools are resisting these changes which are undermining the many combined services that are provided to all children in our city.”

Governors agreed last week to opt for academy status, promising pupils and parents would notice little difference. The new academy will still be known as Tapton School and there will be no change in uniforms, curriculum or admissions policy.

“Finance is the main driver,” admitted chair of governors Caroline Bagley. “It means the top-slice of about £740,000 that currently goes to the council will now come directly to us.”

She said the move was prompted by cuts in sixth-form funding, which mean Tapton’s budget will be down by £70,000 from April and even more in the following two years. The cuts are part of Government policy to bring school sixth forms into line with college funding.

However, David Cameron offered a loophole when he invited all schools judged outstanding by Ofsted to take up academy status – giving them control of their own budgets and independence from the local authority.

Tapton governors believe the school’s best interests will be served by going it alone.

They say that some of the services currently provided as part of the council package are not used and others could be sourced more cost-effectively.

More than 2,000 letters were sent out last week to parents of current pupils and those of feeder schools, and just two responses have been received opposing the move.

However, teachers’ unions claim only one side of the story was put forward. They say academy status will not raise educational standards but will damage children, teachers and the community. And they claim the additional money amounts to a “one-off bribe”.

The school will not be committed to academy status until the official agreement is signed in June or July.