TAPTON School’s controversial move to academy status has been put on hold after last-minute legal problems.
The Crosspool secondary school was due to become an academy today (Thursday), but the move was suspended when concerns were raised about ownership of the buildings.
Tapton was rebuilt ten years ago under a public-private partnership between Sheffield City Council and Pyramid Schools (Sheffield) Ltd, a consortium led by Innisfree Construction.
The council now owns the buildings, but Pyramid has a 25-year contract to manage and maintain the site – and that contract is with the local authority, not the school.
The resulting confusion has given rise to legal questions as governors move to break away from council control.
It means the switch will be unable to go ahead until October at the earliest.
Headteacher David Bowes said: “There’s absolutely nothing at all we can do about it. There are difficulties in the contract.”
But this should be the final legal hoop, he insisted: “Our intention is still very much to become an academy. That has not changed at all.”
Tapton began the transition to academy status at the beginning of this year when governors became the first in Sheffield to take up the Government’s fast-track invitation to ‘outstanding’ schools.
It met opposition from the outset, with staff unions overwhelmingly rejecting the proposal and many parents accusing the school of acting with undue haste.
But governors said they were left with little alternative as the school faced cuts in sixth form funding which could reduce the budget by £450,000 over three years. Becoming an academy could bring in extra funding of £750,000 per year.
The city council has supported Tapton’s bid.
Children’s services director Dr Sonia Sharp confirmed that Lloyds Banking Group, which funded the PFI development, had raised the issue over ownership and the authority was now seeking legal advice.
She said: “We are very disappointed as everyone has worked hard to meet the deadline and can understand that this will be very frustrating for the school.”
And she agreed that the confusion – which is likely to affect other would-be academies too – may be a consequence of legislation being rushed through by the Government.
Lawyers are now working to clarify the situation and are due to announce their findings by the end of September.
Sheffield currently has three academies – Park and Springs, both run by United Learning Trust, and Parkwood – all of which made the transition under the old Labour government programme.
Yewlands Technology College is due to become an academy today and a number of other schools, including Meadowhead and Fir Vale, are considering making the switch next year.