Wednesday, 25 November 2015

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Technical college plans could scupper Workington single academy scheme

Plans to build a new merged academy in Workington could be jeopardised by west Cumbria’s separate University Technical College plan, it has been claimed.

Stewart Young photo
Stewart Young

The warning comes in a week of heated debate over plans for Stainburn and Southfield schools to merge as a single academy.

It was revealed recently that Stainburn and Southfield wanted to convert into academies and then merge in September.

The schools were already in line for Government funding which they and Cumbria County Council hoped would create a new joint school for 1,250 pupils.

But it is understood that plans for a 500-place University Technical College at Lillyhall have put a question mark over the sustainability of the proposed academy’s capacity, as the new college would take students aged 14-plus.

Britain’s Energy Coast Campus, which is behind the technical college plan, was unavailable to comment.

But Stewart Young, deputy leader of Cumbria County Council, said: “There are already surplus school places in Workington.

“The college has introduced a new uncertainty. Its students would come from existing schools.

“The funding to build a new school is in doubt.

“There is no information about when or if there will be a second tranche of funding and there is no way the local authority can afford to spend the money itself.”

The schools are below capacity and over-budget. Mr Young said a replacement was needed to keep the town’s education viable.

Gerald Humes and Alan Barry resigned from the Southfield board of governors this week.

Mr Humes said he was concerned that the academy plans were being rushed through, but Mr Barry would not comment.

The two school headteachers have played down funding concerns.

Chris McGrath, head of Stainburn, said: “We are very optimistic that the funding will still be available. It is essential to invest not just in the college but in other education provision in Workington.”

Lynda Dalkin, Southfield head, said: “I have not been given any promises or dismissals about the future. I still believe that Workington will gain from the funding proposals.”

A Department for Education spokesman said it would continue to work with the council to deliver new buildings for a merged school, and that the academy plans should not affect funding.

Details about consultation should be revealed next week.

Meanwhile, National Union of Teachers county leader Alan Rutter accused education bosses of gambling with children’s education and railroading people into the merger. That has been denied.

But Mrs Dalkin said: “Until we have had everyone’s opinions there will be no decision.”

A county council spokesman said: “It has not yet been determined by either the local authority or the Department for Education whether the academy route is the most suitable option.

“As we have seen in the consultation and debate around the University Technical College proposals, changes to one school affect another, and can also affect how central government views funding priorities.

“We are working hard with partners to achieve the best outcome.”


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