Portsmouth schools look at going independent

Mike Smith, chairman of Portsmouth secondary heads.
Mike Smith, chairman of Portsmouth secondary heads.
Jonathan Melling from the Elliott Group, inside the current Arundel Court Primary School hall

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HEADTEACHERS across Portsmouth are in serious talks about going it alone by severing links with the city council and turning their schools into academies.

The News has learned that the majority of secondary school headteachers and some primary school leaders are attracted by the idea of getting academy status.

It means they would get funding directly from government, run their own budgets and have a greater say in how lessons are taught.

It comes as Miltoncross announces plans to become the second academy in Portsmouth, following in the footsteps of the old St Luke’s School, which became Charter Academy.

Some headteachers are investigating the option of merging with their primary feeder schools to create ‘all-through academies’ for reception to sixth form pupils.

Mike Smith, chairman of Portsmouth secondary heads, said: ‘The government is very clear – it wants as many schools as possible to become academies.

‘Headteachers to a greater or lesser extent can see the benefits in signing up to some academy sponsors.’

He added: ‘In the early days of academies I would have been against them, but I’m not sure that’s the position I can continue to hold. I’m not sure there’s much of an alternative.

‘I’d rather go willingly and on my own terms than find myself forced kicking and screaming.’

Simon Cattermole, chairman of Portsmouth primary heads, said: ‘Academies are the political direction of travel and you can’t ignore that. It will build momentum as schools gradually decide to become academies.’

Academies were first introduced in 2000 to take over failing secondaries, but last year education secretary Michael Gove opened it up to all schools and provided a fast-track route for ‘outstanding’ schools.

Steve Labedz, chairman of the Portsmouth Collaborative, which comprises six city schools, said: ‘As the local education authority has to shrink because of the cutbacks, many of us are looking at where to get that support.

‘The right academy might be one of those solutions – there are schools actively looking at that option and schools that have no plans at the moment.’

Critics say there is a threat that academies will lead to schools becoming selective, leaving less capable or troubled pupils lagging behind.

Alisdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, said: ‘Academies are ruthless about achieving results and growing their business which will create unhealthy competition against other schools and hidden ways of improving standards, like higher exclusion rates.

‘The danger of Miltoncross becoming an academy is it will force everyone in Portsmouth to jump ship.’