Sinfin Community School is 'being bullied' into becoming academy
THE Government is stepping in to force a failing city secondary school to become an academy.
Sinfin Community School is likely to be under the control of a private sponsor within weeks following the shock intervention by ministers.
It is only the fifth time the Secretary of State for Education has taken action against a "failing" school.
Sinfin, which was placed in special measures in February, was told it was making "inadequate progress" when it underwent a further monitoring inspection in June, prompting the Government to act.
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But the move has been dubbed "dictatorial bullying" by a leading teaching trade unionist in what he has called "forced academy conversion". Dave Wilkinson said: "Derby City Council should strongly resist forced academy conversion and stand up for Sinfin."
Lord Hill of Oareford, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, has written to the school's governing body and Derby City Council to say he is "minded to make an academy order".
This would mean the potential removal of head teacher Steve Monks and the governing body, who would be replaced by an interim executive board of "experienced professionals".
Lord Hill has given until Monday for responses to his letter, which was dated September 25, because, he writes, "we are of the view that it is in everyone's interest to make a decision regarding this school without any unnecessary delay".
Despite unsuccessful requests for responses, the Derby Telegraph understands that an external private sponsor has already been lined up to step in to set up an interim board, which will take the school through to becoming an academy as soon as possible. The private company would then continue to run the school on a day-to-day basis outside of local authority control with the aim of raising standards.
Earlier in the year, a proposal for Chellaston Academy to act as sponsor for Sinfin's bid to be an academy fell through when Chellaston head Ray Ruszczynski claimed there was not enough money being provided by the Government to carry it out.
But in August, Sinfin celebrated as it achieved its best-ever GCSE results, with 42% of pupils achieving A* to C grades including English and maths – above the Government's 40% floor target.
Teaching unions have opposed the conversion of Sinfin to an academy for more than four years, when it was mooted under the Labour government but rejected by the then LibDem city council.
Mr Wilkinson, branch secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "When stripped away, Government policy on Sinfin Community School is nothing more than dictatorial bullying. Sinfin pushes its results up to the best ever and the monitoring visit indicated that most teaching was 'good or better'.
"Forced academy conversion and the treatment of Sinfin pupils and teachers by those in control of their lives has been nothing short of scandalous in recent years."
The current Labour- controlled city council changed the previous Tory LibDem council's policy on academy conversion in June, stating its opposition and putting forward the idea of setting up school co-operative trusts instead.
Mr Monks told The Derby Telegraph yesterday he was unaware of Lord Hill's letter.
Councillor Martin Rawson, the city council's cabinet member for children and young people, was last night unavailable for comment.
Councillor Evonne Williams, city council shadow member for children and young people, said: " The new Labour administration are being politically naive with their anti-academy stance.
"I would have preferred to have worked in partnership with the school and Government to find a solution that was local and achieved the changes required for the children and young people who attend Sinfin.
"The Labour administration needs to decide whether improving standards in education or making a political statement is their priority."
ACADEMIES TAKE SCHOOLS OUT OF COUNCIL CONTROL
SEVERAL schools in the city have already become academies voluntarily but none have been ordered to do so before.
Many of them became academies because it gave them a chance of additional funding. Instead of having part of their money taken by Derby City Council for central services, as an academy money is given to them directly and none is kept back.
The first schools in the city to become academies were Chellaston School and West Park School, which took advantage of early conversion offered to "good" and "outstanding" schools under the Coalition government.
This has been followed since by Lees Brook Community School and Woodlands School, who decided they also wanted to be self-governing and have control over their curriculum, finances and governance without having to refer to the local authority.
Other schools have linked up together to form trusts – Bemrose School, da Vinci Community College, Derby Moor Community Sports College and Sinfin Community School – which aim to work together and with primary schools.
Other academies are created where continued under-performance is an issue.
Merrill College has linked up with Derby College, which is sponsoring it as an academy. The school's under-performance meant it was ripe for the Government to step in and order it to become an academy but this was avoided when Derby College said it would work with the school to turn it around. It is likely to be an academy by January.
Sinfin had joined with Chellaston Academy to form a trust but attempts to become an academy with Chellaston failed, leaving the school with no obvious solution to its special measures status.
The city council would like to see the school become part of a co-operative trust, involving the community, key city organisations and other schools, the same as da Vinci Community College, but it seems that time is not on the council's side.