School drops academy plans

West Park Primary School
West Park Primary School
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GOVERNORS at an “outstanding” primary school have dropped plans to convert to academy status indefinitely.

West Park Primary School, in Coniscliffe Road, would have been the first in Hartlepool to become an academy but governors have voted to defer the conversion.

The plans had been backed by Education Secretary Michael Gove. But school bosses said the evidence of the benefits was “inconclusive”.

Under academy status, schools receive their budget direct from the government, unlike primary schools which are funded through the local authority.

It also gives them the freedom to set their own pay and conditions for staff, how they deliver the National Curriculum and change the length of terms and school days.

The school had entered a period of due diligence after Mr Gove had backed the school’s application to convert.

But it has now been decided to defer.

A statement from the governors said: “After long deliberations around the decision of West Park Primary School’s conversion to academy status, the governors voted last week to defer the decision to sign the funding agreement, the final stage of the conversion process.

“The decision came after a meeting with representatives from the local authority.

“The governors felt encouraged by the commitment of the local authority to substantially improve the working relationship and communication between the two bodies.

“Governors began the academy conversion process in December 2010, due to an apparent lack of interest in the school by the local authority and as a result of being relatively poorly funded through the local authority’s funding formula.”

Union representatives, other schools, councillors, staff, parents and pupils had all been consulted.

Conservative group leader Ray Wells, who sits on the board of governors, said: “One of the reasons I stood in the Park ward was the apparent inequality between West Park and other primary schools in Hartlepool.

“It has been a popular misconception because of its geographic position, within a relatively affluent area, that it does not need the same amount of funding.

“The children that attend West Park require the same start in life.”

He added that he has been working with council officers and had been reassured by a “renewed commitment” to improve communication between the local authority and the school.

But said he would keep a close eye on future grants.

Education chiefs at Hartlepool Borough Council had expressed concerns over fears from other school’s governing bodies that the move was “divisive” and had the potential to create a two-tier school system.

A council spokesman said: “We are very pleased that West Park Primary School has deferred its decision to seek academy status.

“West Park is a very high-performing school and we look forward to working closely with the school in the months ahead.

“The School’s Forum helps determine how funding is allocated to all schools in Hartlepool so that the distribution is both fair and transparent.

“West Park is represented on the Forum, as is every other school in Hartlepool.”

The school, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, was rated outstanding in its last Ofsted inspection.