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A Derbyshire secondary school in major need of demolition and a new rebuild is being taken over by an academy trust at the end of the month. The William Allitt School in Sunnyside, Newhall, had an academy order served on it by the Government seven years ago after a series of poor Ofsted assessments.
However, the state of the school’s buildings is said to both crippled it from achieving improved Ofsted reports and from securing an academy trust to take control and secure a new-build backed by the Government. Now the Falcon Education Academies Trust, founded in 2019 and which oversees three other schools, is to take over the Derbyshire secondary from Thursday, September 1.
Falcon is said to already be working with the Department for Education to secure long-awaited rebuild plans for the school which has been literally held up with building props for in excess of a decade.
The Government has listed the school, founded in 1900, as formally “closing” on August 31 with the reason given of “for academy” – to become an academy.
An academy receives its funding directly from central government instead of being funnelled through a council and dispersed. Academies also have more control over curriculum, opening hours, uniform and behaviour policies.
It details that the school has 610 pupils, two thirds of its capacity of 945, while other schools find themselves struggling to allow all applications from prospective parents and carers applying for places for their children.
In 2018, Steve Frost, then chair of governors at William Allitt, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that trying to repair the school was “like putting lipstick on a pig” – an assessment Falcon is said to have specifically agreed with.
Mr Frost has repeatedly stressed that it would be a better use of public funds to demolish William Allitt and rebuild it, instead of continually repairing the ageing facilities, built in the 1960s.
The stalled situation had irked the Conservative-run Derbyshire County Council and Tory South Derbyshire MP Heather Wheeler, both voicing frustrations at the lack of action from the Conservative central Government to secure a full rebuild.
Four years later, the situation appears to be heading towards a solution, with Mr Frost saying that a potential full demolition and rebuild of the school “could” take place “as early as next year” with works over the summer holidays to avoid disruption to pupils and staff.
In late June, Ofsted rated the school as ‘requires improvement’, the third lowest rating out of four, but judging it to be ‘good’ in three out of four assessment categories.
Mr Frost, now resource manager at the school, told the LDRS: “From the inside (the school) it is quite exciting, we have pulled ourselves back to a really strong financial position and in terms of the recent Ofsted report, we are heading in the right direction.
“They (Falcon) have been nothing but positive and staff, although usually it is a sense of being wary when talks about an academy start, have all been positive, people are just excited.
“We have been stuck in limbo having had an academy order hanging over our heads for seven years. It is long overdue and it is a really positive move.
“This should accelerate things in terms of getting a new school. The thing is basically condemned really and it just needs replacing.
“It is now just about which pot of Government money it is going to come from.
“We have got a lot of young, brilliant and energetic staff and our students deserve the best.
“At the moment it is constant spending on the school for repairs and it is not the best use of public funding, it is throwing good money after bad.
“Now the shackles have been taken off by the Government and we stand to benefit from the rebuilding programme, which was suspended.”
He said the new-build school would be more in line with what is required in terms of insulation, energy efficiency and being environmentally friendly.
Jackie Cooper, William Allitt’s head teacher, said: “In June we wrote to families of students already at our school, and to parents of students joining us in September, to let them know the very good news that we had secured an excellent academy trust sponsor and that we would transfer to Falcon Education Academies Trust on September 1.
“Our school has been moving from strength to strength in recent times. We managed the challenges of Covid extremely well, providing laptops for all students to allow a swift move to digital learning and our pastoral care during that period meant our families had someone to talk to for support and who could help with concerns from emotional well-being to delivery of food parcels.
“We emerged from the pandemic to achieve a positive Ofsted report rating education, personal development, welfare and leadership as ‘Good’ across the school.
“I’d like to thank everyone – staff, parents, pupils, governors and the community – for helping us to achieve this and we are working hard to continue our journey to become an outstanding school.
“It is our building that has been a problem for many years now, and some academy trusts have considered that issue too challenging, which we understand.
“However, we know that Falcon has real expertise and a great track record in resolving difficult issues and we are delighted we are joining them.
“Falcon is already working with the Department for Education on a feasibility study for a substantial refurbishment or new build.
“This is an exciting new chapter for the school as we push for a new building that our students and the community deserve.”
A spokesperson for Falcon said the academy trust was founded to take on and turn around schools in the north of England “with a history of under-performance in academic standards or with financial issues”
They said that schools it takes on may be in areas of deprivation and that its leaders have a “track record in school improvement and extensive experience in financial management”.
It currently is supporting three schools – Thornaby Academy in Stockton-on-Tees, Royds Academy in Leeds and – just recently – King Solomon International Business School in Birmingham.
The feasibility study for a rebuild of William Allitt is described by the trust as “an important part in allowing us to assess the building”.
In January, the county council detailed that it had set aside £7 million for the first phase of the William Allitt rebuild, with a total estimated cost of £20 million.
More than 14 years ago, the school was said to be “reaching the end of its useful life” and in January the council had admitted that the facilities were “close to the end of its economic life”.
It claimed the ‘requires improvement’ Ofsted rating was partly due to the state of the buildings themselves.
A county council spokesperson said that the £7 million was a “contingency” “in the event that the DfE did not approve the funding for the feasibility study associated with the conversion to an academy”.
Written by: Admin
It's all to play for in tonight's draw