Academy switch unease

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DONcaster’s largest school has started talks which could see it become the borough’s biggest academy.

The potential plan for Hall Cross School has caused concern among members of Doncaster’s teaching union, which disputes the need for the switch - but the school says it will benefit pupils.

The school, which has nearly 2,000 pupils registered at its sites on Thorne Road, near the town centre, and St Michael’s Road, Bessacarr, has opened talks with Ossett Academy.

Governors at the school have decided they will look into the potential for the academy to take on a role as the ‘sponsor’ of Hall Cross - essentially helping to run it.

It follows the setting up of a working party at Hall Cross to try to find ways to improve its performance.

But John Coward, the Doncaster divisional secretary of the teachers union NUT, is concerned about the plans.

He was due to meet with staff from the school today to discuss the proposal.

Mr Coward said: “I’m very concerned about the relationship between the two schools. I feel like it is the vultures coming to pick off education in Doncaster.

“From the perspective of parents and children in Hall Cross, I can’t see any reason why it needs to be converted to an academy. It already provides a good education, and Ofsted rated it satisfactory at its last inspection.

“I think it is a leap in the dark.

“I’m not happy with the speed things are being done at either Hall Cross or Danum. It feels to me like a decision has already been made.”

The plans for Hall Cross have been revealed just days after it emerged that Danum School - the second biggest in the borough - is in talks with an education charity about becoming an academy.

The news was broken to parents in a letter from headteacher Pippa Dodgshon.

It said: “The governing body of the school has taken the decision to enter into formal consultation on Hall Cross becoming an academy with Ossett Academy, Wakefield, as its sponsor.

“The formal consultation process will provide opportunities for all stakeholders to express their views, prior to a final decision being taken.”

It said the move would help Hall Cross maintain its independence and protect it from ‘predatory’ approaches from other groups of academies, adding that the arrangement would consist of a ‘partnership of equals’ which would drive improvements forward.

Sharing resources would also be a benefit during the difficult financial times, it said

Ms Dodgshon, who is married to Ossett head Martin Shevill, said it was the governors rather than her who had led the negotiations - although she had attended meetings.

She also stressed there had been and would be no consultancy fees paid as part of the arrangements.

She said: “I understand there is anxiety because there have been stories about academy chains in other parts of the countries.

“We are not at risk of failure, but we need to consider the local context we are in, where a number of schools are becoming academies.

“If the local authority loses some capacity because other schools are no longer using its services, we can’t be left procuring services that are not what we need.

“We do not want to be in an academy chain where we may lose our identity.

“The governors leading the process came up with a shortlist of schools they were prepared to consider, where the school had a headteacher who was a national leader in education, with a high profile, at a school which is not in a chain. The number is very narrow. It will not subsume Hall Cross.”