Four schools will be axed

Daily Echo: LEFT: Councillor Peter Baillie, left, accepts a petition against the proposed closure of some of Southampton's schools from Pete Sopowski, Secretary of Southampton Teacher's Association (NUT) last night. LEFT: Councillor Peter Baillie, left, accepts a petition against the proposed closure of some of Southampton's schools from Pete Sopowski, Secretary of Southampton Teacher's Association (NUT) last night.

FOUR Southampton schools are to close and be replaced by two new controversial city academies.

Millbrook Community School, Oaklands Community School, Grove Park Business and Enterprise College and Woolston School Language College will all be axed in August next year.

They will be replaced by two academies - state-funded independent schools that fall outside the council's control - on the Oaklands and Grove Park sites.

Other changes will see Redbridge Community School receive £2.5m to expand and accommodate 150 new places, bringing the total number on roll up to 1,050.

Sholing Technology College will also be given £520,000 to become mixed and expand by 100 new places to 1,050.

At yesterday's crunch education meeting, Southampton's Conservative cabinet unanimously agreed Oasis Community Learning - a London-based Christian organisation backed by Southampton YMCA and the Winchester Church of England Diocese - should create and run the city's two new academies.

The decision came as a shock for many head teachers, governors, college principals and staff.

Most of them had hoped the Southampton Education Trust, made up of representatives from local organisations including the city's two universities, three further education colleges, the VT Group, Carnival and Associated British Ports, would be chosen to help run the two new schools.

Staff and governors from Taunton's College, Oaklands Community School, Itchen College and Grove Park all spoke out in favour of the Southampton Education Trust bid, which was also supported by the city's two MPs.

But in the end, without any officers' recommendation to consider, the council's new executive member for children's services and learning, Councillor Peter Baillie, opted for Oasis and won unanimous support from his colleagues.

Council leader Alec Samuels said he wanted a "diverse"

education system in Southampton and admitted that standards were not as good as he would like.

"I'm all for autonomy - there is no reason why the LEA should have a monopoly of wisdom. Oasis has a lot of innovative ideas that are competent and practical."

He added: "Academies are in a position to bring extra resources to the city and that seems to be an advantage.

Cllr Samuels said Southampton Education Trust appeared to be offering just to "oversee schools" when he was looking for a greater involvement - something available from the academies.

Other bids by organisations wishing to run academies that were rejected were The United Learning Trust and The Centre for British Teachers.

Steve Chalke, Chief Executive of Oasis said: "For us it is a wonderful opportunity. We look forward to working with the local authority, particularly children's services, local business and the voluntary sector and with other schools. Our bid was all about innovation and the curriculum."

He pledged not to change the schools' admission criteria.

Clive Webster, the city council's executive director for children's services and learning, said: "As a city, we have reached a very important and far reaching point for children and young people which I hope signals even greater success then our schools have achieved to date.

"We were very fortunate to have four credible and worthy bids and I feel confident that we can proceed very positively.

"Parents, children and staff will welcome the fact a decision has been reached."

Tony Cotton, head teacher of Millbrook Community School, who backed the Oasis bid, said: "I thought they'd bring imagination and community values."

Tony Frowd, chief executive of Southampton YMCA, also supporting the Oasis bid said: "We're very excited and looking forward to working with Oasis Community Learning to provide the best possible education for the young people in Southampton."

Jane Butler, chair of governors at Grove Park School said: "It's not what we expected. However, we will work with Oasis to provide the very best for the future of our school."

No one was available from Oaklands Community School or Woolston school.

Glyn Oliver, a Southampton teacher and member of the anti-academy alliance said: "It is a sad day for education in Southampton when the council has given up control of co-ordinating and monitoring what goes on in Southampton schools."

Pete Sopowski, of the National Union of Teachers and spokesman for the Save Our Schools group said: "We should have had a local authority bid."

Before the meeting he had handed over a 156-signature petition to Councillor Baillie calling for all the bids to be rejected.

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