MPs urge examination of first city free school

Two Sheffield MPs have asked Education Secretary Michael Gove to investigate the viability of Sheffield’s first free school, which will offer sixth form education in the north of the city.

Angela Smith and David Blunkett have written to express concerns that Chapeltown Academy has not yet announced its location, despite it being due to open in September, and it sponsoring body “has very little teaching experience”.

In addition, the MPs say the academy is refusing to reveal the names of those on the shadow governing body.

The venture will be a Government-financed “free school”, preparing students for universities and careers. Backers say there are 12 secondary schools within a five-mile radius of Chapeltown, but only one sixth form, at Forge Valley in Stannington.

Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said: “Making the choice of which further education establishment to attend is probably one of the biggest decisions youngsters face. Yet those applying to Chapeltown Academy are being asked to place their confidence in an establishment with no track record, that is opaque in nature and one that seems to have very little teaching experience leading it.”

Mr Gove was being asked to “assure parents and young people that the school can deliver on its promises”.

David Blunkett, MP for Brightside and Hillsborough, said: “Clarity on where the premises will be, and therefore their suitability and accessibility for this coming September, is by anyone’s standard a crucial factor”.

An academy spokesperson said: “Contrary to suggestion by local politicians, we have a highly-experienced, highly-qualified governing body with extensive leadership and management experience both in and outside education. This includes former and current headteachers, for example, Dr Andy Wright, a successful, serving headteacher of 26 years’ experience.”

Principal Rebecca Maxted said: “Our vision is bold and aspirational and we understand that will cause some ripples - our focus is not on this, but on serving our fantastic local students who are starting with us in September”.