Sheffield’s first ‘free school’ will open its doors next Friday - with staff insisting it will offer a genuine educational alternative for its community’s teenagers.
Chapeltown Academy is a sixth form centre offering a range of more than 15 A-levels, including sciences, maths, languages and humanities.
Critics, including local MP Angela Smith, say the area doesn’t need more sixth form places, and claim the academy will divert funding from the area’s hard-pressed state schools.
They have also expressed concerns over its location in a business park a 20-minute walk from the middle of Chapeltown.
But headteacher Rebecca Maxted said the academy aimed to attract students who were currently leaving the area to study at sixth form schools in the south-west of the city.
“Now they will be able to stay local and not lose two hours a day in travel. The project is rooted in this community and has been led by demand,” she said.
Mrs Maxted said she was unsure how many students would start classes next week as they were still being enrolled, but her best guess was around 90.
The plan is to have a final total of no more than 300, drawn from Chapeltown, Ecclesfield, Firth Park, Barnsley and Rotherham.
Mrs Maxted said: “We are keeping students here who would otherwise go elsewhere, so we are attracting funding into this community - it will be a boost for the economy and local businesses.”
The academy plans to expand over the coming year with the conversion of a storage facility behind its office premises, which will cost several million pounds.
There are currently nine teachers, a figure that will rise to 16 in the second year.
MP Mrs Smith has predicted the academy will fail to meet its student targets, as three new sixth forms have already been approved in the north of the city.
Parkwood Academy had delayed plans for post-16 provision while Bradfield School’s sixth form had been under-subscribed, she said.
But Mrs Maxted said Chapeltown would be offering something different.
“Our key objective is to give students excellent A-levels which will open the doors to places at leading universties and careers,” she said.
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