Schools head for new era

THREE of Suffolk’s most successful state schools are heading into a new era at the start of the new year – as academies.

While Hartismere School at Eye was formally granted academy status this week, Samuel Ward Arts and Technology College in Haverhill and Forest primary school in Brandon were told their applications would be approved soon.

And they could be setting a trend that will see dozens of other schools across the county become self-governing academies over the next two years.

For Hartismere, the decision means it effectively becomes and independent school with state funding from now.

It can set its own curriculum and adopt its own admission policies. The county council will effectively “commission” education places for students from the area.

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Hartismere’s application for academy status was fast-tracked by the Department for Education because of the school’s outstanding Ofsted reports.

Headteacher James McAtear issued a statement saying: “Becoming an Academy is in large part possible because we have the full support of our Community. Our parents were picked out by Ofsted as being ‘overwhelmingly supportive.’

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“Our Governors bring a tremendous commitment and wealth of experience to the School and our staff share a common bond of commitment to the School that I have encountered nowhere else in my career.

“This gives us the basis to become Suffolk’s first independent State school.”

No one from the school was available to comment on how the change to academy status would affect the school’s admission policies.

At Samuel Ward headteacher Howard Lay said his school was on schedule to become an academy by October 31.

He said: “We aren’t quite there yet, but we are working towards that date. It will make a difference to the school but we will carry on doing what we have been successful at over the last few years.

“We will still have a strong relationship with the county council and it will not affect the employment status of our staff.

“But it will give us the opportunity to tailor the curriculum for the students that we have and make us more responsive to their needs.

“One of the things we still have to decide on is an admissions policy – but that is bound to be geographical-based. We will not become a selective school.”

The first three Suffolk schools to become academies are likely to prove to become trailblazers as the government changes the relationships between schools and local education authorities.

Ultimately it sees local education authorities as being “commissioning bodies” effectively buying-in places at independently-run schools for students in their area.

In theory that should allow parents more choice – but in a rural county like Suffolk the likelihood is that most parents will want their children to go to their local school.

County councillor with responsibility for children’s services Graham Newman said officials knew the three schools had applied for academy status, but did not know in advance about yesterday’s decision.

He said: “It is clear that the relationship between the county and schools will change radically over the next two years – we will become a commissioning rather than a providing body.

“That’s not something I am opposed to, but the change needs to be handled with great care,” he said.

The schools in Suffolk were among 142 academies across the country that were given the go ahead by education secretary Michael Gove yesterday.

He said: “This Government believes that teachers and head teachers, not politicians and bureaucrats, should control schools and have more power over how they are run.

“That’s why we are spreading Academy freedoms. This will give heads more power to tackle disruptive children, to protect and reward teachers better, and to give children the specialist teaching they need.”

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