One year’s grace for Unity after council rejects sponsorship

16 April 2009

by Margaret Holness Education Correspondent

FAST-TRACK PLANS to convert Unity College, Northampton, a voluntary aided Church of England comprehensive, to an academy in September this year have been halted. Northamptonshire County Council’s cabinet — its key decision-making body, which met on Tuesday — declined to close the school this summer. The change of plan had been expected, after the emer­gence of an internal council paper earlier this month (News, 9 April).

While continuing to back academy status as “the best way forward” for Unity, which is in special measures, members agreed to explore new sponsorship arrangements.

In a statement after the meeting, the cabinet member for children and young people, Joan Kirkbride, said: “Many of the people I consulted told me they would back academy status if it was the best way to improve standards; but the overwhelming message was that there was no support for an academy under the current sponsorship package.”

Peterborough diocese is the lead sponsor. The Bishop of Brixworth, the Rt Revd Frank White, said that the council’s decision meant a further period of uncertainty for the school. “We will continue to support Unity, and we want very much to be involved in future plans. I believe very strongly that church schools, which encourage spiritual literacy, have a great deal to offer in disadvantaged areas.”

The council’s rejection of the current sponsorship package, how­ever, raises legal issues about how the church trust that now owns Unity’s land and buildings could be main­tained under new arrangements. The C of E designation of the school, moreover, raises questions about the ethos any alternative sponsor would seek to promote.

In Northampton, this week’s decision was being hailed as a victory for local democracy by the Save Unity action group.

The school will now continue for a further year under the headship of Margaret Gwynne, but with the sup­port of an interim executive board, which will replace the governing body. The chairman of governors, Phil Mason, welcomed this week’s decision. A former schools inspector, Mr Mason said that the council had demonstrated local government’s ability to reflect listen to the views of those affected by his decisions.

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