A NORTHUMBERLAND school seeking academy status is ready to play its hand and opt out of council control.
Haltwhistle Community Campus, which includes an upper and lower school, could become an academy within three months if a consultation with parents comes up with the required result.
Headteacher Michael Routledge and chairman of governors Lawrence Thompson have worked closely together on the issue.
And yesterday Mr Thompson dismissed suggestions that it was a political move in the light of problems at nearby Allendale Middle School, which is facing closure.
Mr Thompson said: “It will be based purely on educational reasons for the benefit of pupils and the benefit of the community.
“It is not a political decision and it is not connected with anything else.
“There is no decision made yet ... the consultation is going on and we have got a letter out.”
Hexham Tory MP Guy Opperman warmly welcomed the move and hailed the prospect of Haltwhistle becoming a “flagship”.
Mr Opperman said last night: “This is great news. It will help Haltwhistle to secure its long-term future. I am a big champion of our middle schools, and our three-tier education system.
“This can clearly be strengthened where schools leave local authority control, take charge of their own destiny and become academies.
“We saw from the situation around Allendale Middle School that the county council’s implicit agenda is to push for two-tier in rural Tynedale.
“Academies are outside the control of the county council. They will no longer have that pressure on them.”
Parents of upper and lower school pupils, as well as prospective parents, will be given a chance to ask questions of staff and governors at the upper school in a special meeting on the evening of February 4. The full consultation period will run until February 25.
Mr Thompson said: “We will only proceed to academy status if we are convinced that this will be in the best interests of the whole school community.”
Haltwhistle caters for pupils from age three to 13, including an Early Years unit. If it achieves its aim, it will take on converter academy status rather than sponsored status.
That means it would run similarly to the present, with the benefits that it could alter parts of the curriculum to suit pupils’ specific needs, get slightly more annual funding, have the freedom to manage its own admission arrangements and become directly accountable to the DfE rather than the local authority.
Mr Opperman added: “I am 100% behind the headteachers and governing bodies, including Mike Routledge and his team at Haltwhistle Middle, who are considering becoming academies.
“What matters is getting the best education for our kids, and together we will do that.”
In December, Mr Routledge was part of a delegation which accompanied Mr Opperman to a meeting with Schools Minister David Laws in London, to seek assurances over academies’ pension contributions.