Council rules out legal challenge over new academy

King's School, Tynemouth

King's School, Tynemouth

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Senior councillors have “very reluctantly” dropped all opposition to a proposed new academy due to open in Tynemouth next month.

Officials at North Tyneside Council were angry that the Secretary of State for Education had twice approved a funding agreement for Kings Priory School – a merger of fee-paying The King’s School with council-run Priory Primary School.

But at an extraordinary cabinet meeting held last night (Monday), members ruled out any legal challenge over the proposals.

They said that any further objection, a judicial review for a court to have the final say on the academy, would only cause disruption and upset for children and families preparing to start the new school year in September.

Instead, the cabinet agreed to focus on protecting the future education of the borough’s 30,000 children, including working with schools to address the 20 per cent of surplus places they are facing.

Officers have been asked to provide a report on the situation within the next few months.

The council is also hoping to work with the Secretary of State to help address the impact on other children and their families who will now be affected by a review of the wider school network.

Cabinet members had objected to the proposed academy as it would result in an increase in surplus places at nearby schools, leaving Marden High School with a financial shortfall of £1.3m over the next five years.

Coun Ian Grayson, cabinet member for children, young people and learning, said: “We remain deeply concerned at the Secretary of State’s stance and astounded at the illogical explanations he has given for his decision.

“However, we are acutely aware of the effect any ongoing uncertainty will have on children and their families.

“For that reason we are not pursuing a legal challenge to the decision.

“We only want what’s best for all 30,000 children in North Tyneside and that is why we have been in ongoing correspondence with the government, since becoming aware of the proposals in September last year.

“We were bitterly disappointed – but sadly not at all surprised – that the Secretary of State has treated us in this way by not providing us with information and leaving it until the very last minute to inform us.

“It is our view that by rushing through such an important decision he has made key mistakes and has not properly engaged with the authority, who will now be left to pick up the pieces.

“We have never understood why this matter needs to be dealt with in such haste.

“If the government had been prepared to set their opening timescale for 2014, this would have provided more time to sensibly consider this matter.

“We hope the Secretary of State comes forward with an offer of additional funding to support the local schools in the coming years.

“It is not an unreasonable expectation, after all he has been quite happy to pay off the substantial debts, in the region of £5m, of the fee charging Kings School.”

The council’s decision has been welcomed by Woodard Academies Trust, the sponsors of Kings Priory School.

Chief executive David Bilton said: “We are pleased that North Tyneside Council, after two signed funding agreements from the Department for Education, is dropping all opposition to the new academy.

“Community and parent support has been incredible and every entry level at the new academy is over subscribed.

“We are intent on building a school, that opens in 27 days, under the leadership of Principal David Dawes, that will be outstanding, a beacon of excellence that the Tynemouth community deserves.”