Huntingdonshire secondary schools could be academies

ALL six secondary schools in Huntingdonshire could re-open as academies in September in a bid to break away from government control.

Abbey College in Ramsey, Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, the Longsands Learning Partnership, which includes Longsands College and St Neots Community College, St Ivo School, St Peter’s School and Sawtry Commnunity College are considering submitting a joint application for academy status to the Department for Education, it was revealed this week.

If approved the schools will be able to determine their own pay and conditions for staff, have more freedom on what they teach, change term lengths and even the time school days begin and end.

The schools, which form Huntingdonshire Secondary Education Partnership (HSEP), are proposing to apply for the status en masse, rather than individually.

Headteacher of St Peter’s School and chairman of the HSEP, Val Ford, told The Hunts Post that a joint application would allow the schools to build on their long-standing partnership.

Currently representatives from all six schools meet regularly to share good practice and discuss policy.

“We believe a co-ordinated approach would maximise the benefits of academy status for all Huntingdonshire secondary students,” Mrs Ford said. “Whatever the outcome of our investigation, we would retain all of our independence as schools while opening up the prospect of building positively on an existing collaboration. We are aware that greater freedom brings greater responsibilities.

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“Academies are funded in the same way as other schools except that they receive directly funding that currently is retained by the local authority to provide services. Academies decide themselves how best to commission or deliver these or similar services.

“In some cases, it may be that schools would want to buy back services from the authority. However, we also think we may make savings by purchasing services as a group of schools and possibly more locally.”

A four-week consultation on academy status with parents, staff, governors and pupils will be held after half-term at the end of this month. Each school’s governing body will decide if they want to pursue academy status. If so, a formal application will then be submitted to the Department For Education. Applications can take as little as three months to process, and hopes are that, if approved by minister Michael Gove, the schools will re-open in September as academies.

Mrs Ford said: “Obviously we need people to be supportive of it. Nationally there is some concern about schools becoming academies. We want to maintain our independence. We have all got our own ethos, and we want to maintain that, but there are areas where collaboration will be positive.”

Two schools – Crosshall Infants School and Crosshall Primary School in St Neots – have academy status in Huntingdonshire, and 11 schools in Cambridgeshire have applied so far this year.

More than 400 academies have opened in England. Initially only schools rated outstanding by Ofsted could apply, but earlier this month Mr Gove announced other schools could become academies, including weaker schools if they worked in partnership with stronger schools.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said joint applications had been received, but one involving six schools was “unusual”.