Half schools in Portsmouth ‘will become new academies’

CHANGE  Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson
CHANGE Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson

Primary school in Gosport celebrates one year since merger

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PORTSMOUTH City Council says it expects more than half of schools to become academies before the end of next year.

To prepare, it is creating a guide of academy providers to avoid ‘bizarre’ ones taking charge of youngsters’ education.

Council leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: ‘This is a very big issue. The national estimate is more than 50 per cent of secondary schools will be academies by the end of 2012 and we expect that will be the case here. There are advantages for them. But it raises concerns for us.’

Academy schools, championed by education secretary Michael Gove, opt out of the national school finance system, in which councils receive cash and share it across the city.

Instead, they are run independently and receive government cash directly, giving them more control over their budgets.

But Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘We want to avoid a situation where there are lots of different providers with wildly different ideas. We want to try to ensure education isn’t provided by the more bizarre end of the system, where people refuse to teach evolution, or sex education.’

Only one of the city’s 10 secondary schools, Charter Academy, has academy status.

But Miltoncross is applying to ‘go it alone’, and others are expected to follow suit.

And as reported last week, the council is already unhappy with Charter’s backer Ark, which it says has broken an agreement to give places to problem pupils from other schools.

Ark denies the claim, but Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘Charter’s refusal to do what the other schools in the city do and offer places to youngsters who’ve been told to move on from other schools would be a disaster if followed by other academies.

‘It would mean council-run schools became sink schools. We must avoid that.’

The council can’t force schools to accept its suggested operators, but is compiling advice they can use.

It held meetings this week between schools representatives and four operators, Kemnal, ULT, AET and E-ACT, which indicated they would take part in the ‘hard to place’ pupil scheme. Ark was not invited.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘I don’t approve of academies. But they’re here, so we want to help schools make the best choices for our children.’