Anger as proposed academy is approved for the second time

Council leaders have criticised the government for the speed of its decision to approve funding for an academy for the second time.

North Tyneside Council had written to the Secretary of State for Education to object to the new Kings Priory School in Tynemouth, which would see the merger of privately-run King’s School and council-run Priory Primary School.

The council received an email at 7pm on Thursday, July 26, saying the original decision to allow the academy would be withdrawn and reconsidered.

But by 10.30am the following day, they received a further email from Lord Nash, parliamentary under secretary of state for schools, confirming “the Secretary of State has decided to enter into funding arrangements with the Woodard Academy Trust having considered the matter afresh”.

A council spokesperson said: “We were pleased to receive the email at 7pm last night (Thursday confirming that the Secretary of State would withdraw the original decision and consider the Kings Priory proposal afresh.

“However, we were absolutely astounded that by 10.30am this morning they have reconsidered it – without being able to set out their reasons or the information used to reach the new decision.

“It is particularly surprising when at 10.14am we received another email saying it would take three-and-a-half working days to find the information in response to our FOI request when that information would have been used in making the fresh decision.

“In contrast we have shared all our available information with the department, yet we have been provided with none of the information they are relying on to reach a decision on this proposal which could have an impact on schools in North Tyneside for years to come.”

The spokesperson added that once the council receives the reasons for the government reaching its decision, an extraordinary cabinet meeting would be reconvened to consider whether any further action is appropriate.

They added: “We fully recognise that this is disruptive and stressful for parents and children affected by this decision and regret that this process is taking place at this time. However, the timescale for our challenge has been completely out of our hands.

“The council has been seeking to engage fully with the department since September last year when the authority raised its initial concerns. That offer has never been taken up.

“The minister didn’t issue his decision until July 10 – so the council could not have made its formal challenge any earlier.

“We have never understood why this matter needs to be dealt with in such haste. If Kings School and the Woodard Trust had been prepared to set their opening timescale for 2014 this uncertainty would not have occurred as we would all have had more time to sensibly consider this matter.

“And how the Secretary of State has now been able to completely reconsider the decision afresh as they promised, between 7pm last night and 10.30am this morning – when it took six months for them to make the original decision – is absolutely incomprehensible.

“The response from the Minister yesterday evening was encouraging as it indicated the decision was withdrawn and would be determined afresh but the speed which a new decision has been issued at 10.30am this morning raises doubt over how fully the matter has been properly considered afresh.

“It smacks of pre-determination.”

But those behind the new academy have welcomed the government’s latest decision.

Woodard Academies Trust chief executive David Bilton said: “We are delighted that, following a request from North Tyneside Council, the Secretary of State has quickly and thoroughly re-examined all information submitted and has yet again approved the funding agreement.

“With just 37 days to go until the new academy opens we hope this draws a line under any uncertainty and that the parents, students and staff can at last feel confident that they will be part of the Kings Priory School community.

“We hope North Tyneside Council will now comply with the over-riding wishes of the community and support this new School which we confidently believe will become a beacon of excellence that the whole community will be proud of.”