Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Totley school rejects ballot on becoming academy

A row has broken out over whether a Sheffield school should become an academy without balloting parents.

King Ecgbert School in Totley has resisted calls for a referendum by local councillors, MPs and parents.

Labour MP Paul Blomfield, whose constituency is in the school's catchment area, said parents should be given a say on this "extremely important local decision".

He has written to Nick Clegg asking him to support a ballot on academy status.

He said Mr Clegg, who is Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam as well as Deputy Prime Minister, also has constituents in the school's catchment area.

"Nick Clegg's government often talks of greater localism so I hope he will join me in calling for the ballot," said Mr Blomfield.

A final decision on the school's conversion to academy status is expected to be made on 17 January.

Financial advantages

The school, considered to be in a particularly advantaged area of the city, is a specialist technology college.

Head teacher Lesley Bowes said the school had considered the matter very carefully but insisted there was no need for a referendum.

"It's something we believe will protect the excellence we have in the school at the moment," she said.

There are currently more than 1,500 academy schools in England.

They have increased control over the curriculum, teachers' pay and opening hours.

They are also taken out of council control and receive funding directly from central government.

Opponents of academy schools say they would fracture the state education system and open the door to privatisation.

Labour has said that privileged neighbourhoods would benefit, with the best schools attracting the best teachers and resources, leaving those left under local authority control regarded as second best.

Head teacher Ms Bowes said there were financial reasons behind the application for academy status.

She said: "Some of it is financial, certainly. By 2015-16 we will be facing a cut of nearly 25% in our sixth form funding. But beyond that [academy status] will give the opportunity to support schools that find themselves in challenging circumstances."

'Ideological opposition'

Chair of Governors, Ian Hewson, said a comprehensive consultation process was running until 13 January, and opposition to the academy programme was an "ideological battle" by some parents.

He said: "I think most parents who are against the conversion are actually philosophically opposed to academies in general rather than the particular financial situation the school faces now, which is what really concerns the governors," he said.

Andrew James, one of the parents calling for a ballot, said a removal of local accountability and increased inequality would be a major problem.

"It's about bringing in selection through the back door, ultimately," said Mr James.

"If you have schools just acting in their own best interests, how long is it before they start to narrow the curriculum because of financial pressures?

"Reducing teachers' terms and conditions, bringing in selection because it's better to have children from advantaged areas rather than disadvantaged areas?"

He said it was "disappointing" that the school would not hold a ballot despite support from local MPs and councillors.

More on this story

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites