Plan for newly-built Blackburn high school to join Tauheedul charity rapped by teaching union (From Blackburn Citizen)
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Plan for newly-built Blackburn high school to join Tauheedul charity rapped by teaching union
10:30am Monday 11th March 2013 in Blackburn
A NEWLY-built Blackburn high school is to become the first academy sponsored by a charity whose founders include the principal of a nearby Islamic girl’s secondary.
Governors at Witton Park High School have voted unanimously in favour of plans to join the Blackburn-based Tauheedul Sponsored Academies group and become its ‘flagship’ academy.
Hamid Patel, a governor of TSA, said the partnership would mean the Buncer Lane school would benefit from a national network of support and development opportunities, improving educational standards.
But the plans were slammed by teaching unions, who said it was unfair that a school that had recently been completely rebuilt with public money was to go its own way.
TSA, which was set up by members of staff from the Tauheedul Islam schools, is planning to create 12 academies throughout the country over the coming months.
It now has trustees from all over the UK including councillors, teachers and managers.
Mr Patel, who is also principal of Tauheedul Islam Girls High School in Blackburn, assured parents the school would not be religiously influenced.
He said: “Some people will try and link it with the girls school or with Islam, but I want to be very clear that that would be inappropriate and unfair.
“TSA in a non-denomination academy sponsor.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with religion and the curriculum will stay the pretty much the same.
“While the governors have national ambitions, we still consider ourselves to be a Blackburn-based sponsor.
“When we were looking at our first academy, it had to be the right one in the right place.
“This one being in Blackburn was worth it and was a real opportunity to continue and make a contribution to the borough.
“Witton Park is going to be a flagship school.”
It is expected the new status will be in place by September.
Academies have more freedom than other state schools over their finances, the curriculum, and teachers’ pay and conditions.
They are funded directly by central government, instead of receiving their funds via a local authority.
Witton Park moved into its state-of-the-art building in September after it was given £25million of private finance initiative cash.
It is one of three PFIs in Blackburn with Darwen, and will continue to pay mortgage-like payments from its main budget for 25 years.
The other two in the borough are Pleckgate School and Blackburn Central High School.
Witton Park held talks with a number of possible sponsors before deciding the TSA Trust would provide the best opportunity for the school.
Chairman of governors, Dave Hollings, said the board recognised the growth of both free schools and studio schools in the town, which he said meant Witton Park needed to examine the best way to continue in its mission to provide students with the best possible education.
Mr Hollings said that TSA had a proven track record in working in partnership with schools whilst allowing the school to remain an autonomous community school.
He said: “We are delighted to be able to work with TSA and share their expertise whilst being able to retain Witton Park’s ethos and independence, which is very important to us.”
Consultation on the conversion is due to start soon, a process that is expected to take up to four months.
Dean Logan, headteacher at Witton Park, said the ability to respond quickly and effectively to the changing educational landscape was essential for the school’s continued improvements in standards.
He said: “We are excited about the partnership and the benefits it will give the school.
“I would expect that when students return from their summer break we will be open as an academy with all staff striving to further improve the outcomes for our students.”
Simon Jones, Blackburn with Darwen Secretary for the National Union of Teachers, criticised the plans.
He said: “The school has been rebuilt as part of the Building Schools for the Future scheme and now they are looking at doing their own thing.
“Whoever the sponsor is, we are opposed to it.
“It will just further undermine other schools in Blackburn with Darwen.
“I understand one of the driving forces behind this is the competition for pupil places, but I cannot see how this will help at all.”
On Friday, Blackburn with Darwen Council had not been officially told about the plans.
Coun Tony Humphrys, executive member for schools and education at the council, said: “We are happy to discuss the matter with them.
“Our role as a local authority is to ensure a quality education for every child in Blackburn with Darwen.”