Sunderland AFC to open new free school for under-performing children

Artist's impression of the Beacon of Light
Artist's impression of the Beacon of Light

SUNDERLAND AFC’s charity wing is to set up a new free school in Wearside.

Prime Minister David Cameron today announced the Foundation of Light has been approved to open a new “alternative provision” school to offer a brighter future to pupils and vulnerable young people who are not performing will in normal classrooms.

Up to 80 pupils will be taught at the Sunderland Centre of Opportunity (SCOO), which will be championed by the Foundation of Light and SAFC and based at the new Beacon of Light building.

Pupils aged between 13 and 16 will be referred to the centre from schools and academies from across Sunderland, South Tyneside and Durham.

The goal of the school will be to successfully re-integrate young people back into their mainstream school with the necessary skills, attitudes and motivation to successfully continue their education - although some young people may continue with weekly contact if appropriate.

The school will use the inspirational brand of Sunderland Football Club and the Foundation of Light, allied to the power of sport, to help young people gain the skills and qualifications required to change their lives and enhance their employment opportunities.

I’m extremely proud of the achievements of the Foundation, but the Centre of Opportunity will take us to a different level.

Sir Bob Murray

The Centre for Opportunity will open in September 2016 and will be an independent alternative provision school with a Board of Governors, enabling it to set its own curriculum, attract funding from the Government and will be subject to Ofsted inspection.

David Cameron said: “Delivering the best schools and skills for young people is a crucial part of our long term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain.

“Free schools set up by teachers, parents and community groups are not only outperforming other schools, but they are raising the performance of those around them, meaning more opportunities for children to learn the skills they need to get on in life.

“These new schools are an important part of our plan to improve education by raising standards and restoring discipline so our children can compete with the world’s best and enjoy a better future.”

Lesley Spuhler, CEO of the Foundation on Light, said: “The local authority, schools and academies have for many years commissioned the Foundation to provide short-term programmes to re-engage and inspire learners who then return to mainstream schools.

“Over the last 18 months local authorities, schools and academies have asked us to look at longer-term provision with a fuller curriculum and outcomes that bring young people closer to the labour market.

“We firmly believe that our Centre of Opportunity will provide positive experiences for young people and the football club is fully on board and very supportive.

“It’s a natural progression from what we have offered in the past and follows the successful examples of similar free schools set up in partnership with Derby County and Everton FC.

“Our educational qualifications will be on a par with our mainstream peers, including the provision for five GCSEs, while our vocational qualifications will be suited to students’ capabilities and current business needs.

“Our important relationship with businesses from across the north east also means we’ll be able to offer unique opportunities for work experience, mentoring and real-life learning, so that young people can fulfil their ambitions and potential by raising aspirations, creating confidence and promoting opportunity.

A significant number of local businesses and employers, together with Sunderland Football Club and Sunderland Aquatic Centre have already committed to providing students with real-life experience of the world of work on a regular basis.

From 2017, the centre’s classrooms will be inside the £15m Beacon of Light, which will be located next to the Stadium of Light and the Aquatic Centre.

Sir Bob Murray, CBE, former chair of SAFC and founder of the Foundation of Light described how the Beacon will inspire those attending the Centre: “The Beacon is going to be a huge step forward for the city, a real catalyst for change. It will be an inspiring, vibrant, exciting and vital education, skills and sports facility for learners and the wider community.

“The Sunderland Centre of Opportunity will ultimately be based within the three-storey Beacon of Light, and enjoy access to all of its facilities.

“I’m extremely proud of the achievements of the Foundation, but the Centre of Opportunity will take us to a different level. I know from experience how the power of education can transform lives. It won’t just be a great opportunity for the young people but for their families too.”

The application for the Centre of Opportunity was submitted to the Government in October 2015 and approved in March 2015.