Sheffield MPs attack academy plans

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Two city MPs have attacked plans for Sheffield’s first ‘free school’ which they say has no confirmed base, little teaching experience and an anonymous governing body.

Chapeltown Academy is due to open as a sixth form centre in September, serving part of the city which supporters say has little post-16 options.

But Angela Smith and David Blunkett say teenagers are being asked to place their faith in an institution with no track record and which is making ‘only vague promises about the future’.

Backers of the academy reject the charges, saying its premises will be confirmed next month and that the governing body is highly experienced and qualified.

Ms Smith and Mr Blunkett have written to Education Secretary Michael Gove outlining their growing concerns that the new school is not viable.

They argue that with the academy due to open its doors in just seven months’ time, the fact that no premises have been confirmed is a concern.

“The sponsoring body Chapeltown Academy Ltd has very little teaching experience within its ranks and, moreover, the academy is refusing to reveal the names of those on the shadow governing body,” the letter says.

“We consider it critical that young students be reasonably assured of a good education if they enrol with the academy.”

Ms Smith 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 Blunkett added. “My concern is ensuring the highest possible quality for our young people, because they deserve it. Clarity on where the premises will be, and therefore their suitability and accessibility, is by anyone’s standard a crucial factor.”

An academy spokesman said: “Our primary purpose is to provide a stretching, academic education for local youngsters to prepare them for entry to leading universities and careers.

“We have a highly experienced, highly qualified governing body with extensive leadership and management experience both in and outside education.

“Although site negotiations remain confidential, we expect to make an announcement next month and will be moving into local accommodation in September.”

Principal Rebecca Maxted added: “Our vision is bold and aspirational and we understand that will cause some ripples - but our focus is on serving our fantastic local students.”