Councillors have agreed to challenge a government decision to approve an academy in Tynemouth.
An extraordinary meeting was held by North Tyneside Council last night (Wednesday) to discuss the options available to the authority following the Secretary of State for Education’s decision to approve Kings Priory School.
The academy would be the first of its kind in the country as it would see privately-run King’s School merge with council-run Priory Primary School.
And councillors voted 37 to 7 in favour of challenging the decision.
At an extraordinary cabinet meeting held after the full council meeting, members agreed to instruct the authority’s lawyers to send a formal letter to the Secretary of State urging him to reconsider his decision.
If no satisfactory response is received, the council will consider whether to ask for a judicial review to enable the court to review the government’s decision.
Labour councillors say the new academy would result in a drop of 30 pupils a year (35 per cent) going to nearby Marden High School – a loss of £1.3m in funding over five years.
And they said the Secretary’s report had four main errors, including claiming Marden High was oversubscribed, while Kings School had failed to declare it had £5m debt.
Coun Ian Grayson, cabinet member for children, young people and learning, said: “This is a legal process and not something we are entering into lightly.
“It is clear that the Secretary of State got his facts wrong when assessing the surplus places at nearby Marden High School and the major impact this academy will have on other secondary schools in the area.
“So, while we appreciate that this is an extremely unsettling time for the parents of children at Priory Primary and at King’s School, we believe it would be wrong to allow our concern for them to override our duty to all 30,000 children in our schools.
“We have reassured parents of children at Priory Primary that no child will be left without a school place in North Tyneside in September and that will still be the case.
“Priory is an excellent local authority maintained school and would continue to be part of the local authority provision.”
Supporting the objection, Liberal Democrat group leader Coun Nigel Huscroft said: “The biggest problem we have here is there are no winners.
“Councillors are corporate parents. We have a responsibility to all pupils in North Tyneside.
“The children will suffer here, we’ve got to get it right.”
But Conservative members called for the academy to go ahead.
Group leader Coun Judith Wallace said: “The Secretary of State has considered facts and made a decision. It is what parents at both schools want.”
Labour councillors said they hoped that any judicial review could be heard before the academy’s planned opening in September.
But after the meeting, senior officials at Woodard Academies Trust – those behind the academy plan – questioned the council’s decision.
David Bilton, chief executive of the trust, said: “We strongly believe that there are no credible grounds for the local authority to consider a judicial review and therefore the pre-intent letter to the Secretary of State just adds to community anxiety as parents wait the outcome.
“The meeting considered a report. We highlighted on July 17 that there are inaccuracies in the report which are incorrect and misleading.
“Having worked closely with the Department for Education over the last nine months and with the funding agreement being signed by the Secretary of State, we are proceeding as normal in order to open Kings Priory School on September 1.
“For the council to bring about this uncertainty at the end of the summer term would tend to suggest that they have little or no concern for the children or the parents who, despite our reassurances, will clearly be worried by the local authority’s action.
“The children at Kings Priory School will account for less than five per cent of the children in education in the borough.
“There has been no consideration for the wishes of the local community, no acknowledgement that the substantial assets, built up and paid for by Kings School, will be accessed by the local community, or that the children in Tynemouth from the ages of four to 18 will receive the very best education.
“At Woodard Academies Trust we are dismayed at this narrow minded stance and want to reassure parents that this academy will open in September as planned.”