Sponsors shortlist to help guide new city academies

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A SHORTLIST of ‘approved’ academy sponsors is being drawn up to help vulnerable Sheffield schools break away from council control.

The pioneering move, by city council officers, aims to support under-performing schools which are at risk of being forced to become academies.

Education Secretary Michael Gove wants the country’s ‘weakest’ schools to convert as soon as possible.

But Sheffield children’s services team is anxious to maintain unity in spite of the pressure.

Its answer is to draw up a table of potential sponsors – including successful schools, colleges and national chains – and vet them to create a shortlist of those which conform to the authority’s vision.

“We don’t want academy chains that aren’t in the city and don’t have our ethos,” said Coun Jackie Drayton, cabinet member for children’s services.

“We are going to work with the City-Wide Learning Body to create a strategic partnership for the city, rather than leaving it to Government and individual schools to decide.”

The so-called Sheffield Approach will support sponsors that share common values and agree to a series of commitments, but can also deliver genuine improvement in standards.

The commitments include signing up to Sheffield’s City-Wide Learning Body, maintaining the current admissions policy, developing school facilities for community use and giving council representatives a seat on the governing body.

The move comes amid controversy over a number of ongoing conversions, most recently involving King Ecgbert and Bradfield secondaries.

“Schools have been really relieved by our approach,” said Director of Children’s Services, Dr Sonia Sharp.

“We were struck by the dilemmas we were seeing. We were very concerned that headteachers and governing bodies were having to spend a lot of time looking for sponsors – and very often they were looking at the same people.

“This will make sure there’s been a really thorough look at the different sponsors and their advantages and disadvantages, so governing bodies have a wealth of information and make a wise choice.”

Selection is currently under way and the list should be available by Easter.

lAn academy roadshow is due to take place at the North East Learning Zone, Parson Cross on Tuesday at 6.30pm.