Academy storm brewing

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THREE primary schools which may be taken away from Lancashire County Council and run by the now independent Nelson and Colne College under the Academy Project have been named.

It has been established that one of them - Walverden Primary in Nelson - is fighting the idea. But Walter Street in Brierfield is in favour and Castercliff in Nelson is still debating the situation.

Colne Primet High School had already been identified as a possible academy project with the college. Pendle councillor Lord (Tony) Greaves raised the issue but didn’t name the primary schools.

In a statement this week, Walverden Primary has described the proposal as “a storm brewing”. It added: “After two meetings with representatives from the Department for Education this year, the Governors were in the process of considering whether to agree to the suggestion by the DfE that the school should be converted into an academy and had requested further information.

“However, before the governing body had had the opportunity to consider this information and, before a decision could be made, the DfE requested the Local Authority issued a warning letter to the school regarding standards of attainment. The LA wrote back to the DfE refusing to issue the warning on the basis of their knowledge of the school and the recent Ofsted Inspection which confirmed their positive opinion of the school. As a response to this, Secretary of State Michael Gove has used recent legislation to force the LA to issue the warning. It has now issued the warning to the school but has written back to the DfE stating their strong objections to being forced to take this action. The school now intends to respond with an appeal against the decision to Ofsted.”

And it added: “The governors of the school are very concerned about the undemocratic actions by the DfE and, should the appeal be unsuccessful, the governors will probably be compelled to move the school away from the LA and place it under the control of a private sponsor.” The governors organised a meeting for parents last Monday to discuss any issues with governors.

In a different view, Sarah Watson - head at Walter Street Primary - said: “Our governing body is currently at an early stage in negotiating with the DfE about the possibility of converting to academy status. We have also expressed a provisional interest in working with the college as our sponsor.”

Castercliff head Mr Ian Chester said: “We are not eligible for intervention. At the moment, no decision has been made on academy status.”

Nelson and Colne College principal Amanda Melton said: “The college is very supportive of the educational priorities locally, and recognises the diverse range of issues facing each school. To date, governors of one primary school have voted in favour of moving towards adopting academy status with the college as sponsor.

“The college is not included in any other conversations between DfE and local primary schools. As an outstanding provider with a track record of achieving excellent results, we are committed to raising young people’s aspirations and achievements locally, and will gladly support schools both within and outside any eventual trust when requested to do so.”

Lord Greaves, who expressed concern about the academy proposals in April, said: “I am appalled by the way schools are being bullied by the DfE. It’s not clear what the criteria are for choosing the schools. It’s clear that, if they are in special needs, that is one thing, but different schools included are in no worse positions than other schools. So why have they been chosen? It’s very worrying. The criteria should be very clear.”