Coalition’s academy scheme arrives in Townsend

Last week, the new Townsend Primary Academy in Bournemouth took another step towards its opening next September.

The forthcoming academy will be located on the site of the former Townsend Primary School and Nursery, which closed in 2008, causing much distress to local parents and children.

However, last week Aspirations Academies Trust was presented as the preferred choice of academy sponsor to the Cabinet, after extensive consultation with the council and the local Townsend community.

Such news comes as a blessing for primary school students in Townsend, who have spent the last 5 years travelling to neighbouring schools in Boscombe, when a fully-equipped school was sitting on their doorstep.

Councillor for Strouden Park Michael Weinhonig described the schools closure five years ago as “devastating,” forcing them to work tirelessly to mitigate the negative effects on the community.

On the forthcoming academy, Weinhonig said: “this is a fantastic opportunity, we have a fantastic sponsor that has an ethos that isn’t just about educating children, it’s about giving them some grounding in life.”

Chief Executive for Aspirations Academies Trust Steve Kennings said their aim was to give the students of Townsend “real life opportunities at early age from reception through to the eleven, which is really important stage to ground that education.”

Under government plans, academies are publicly-funded schools which operate outside local authority, thus giving them more freedom in terms of finances, curriculum and teacher’s pay and conditions.

Because they receive their money from the central government, rather than from local authority, academies receive 4-10% more money than other regular schools as funds are often kept back to provide possible extra services such as help for children with special needs.

Whilst Michael Weinhonig described the academy scheme as “forward thinking”, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) is highly critical of the government’s new programme.

In a resolution posted on their website, the NUT claim that the perceived independence of academies “undermines pay conditions for teachers, undermines local authorities, breaks up common admissions arrangements and redirects hundreds of millions of pounds which could have been spent on supporting existing schools”.

Indeed, in September the Bournemouth Echo reported that it would cost around £4 million pounds to open the new Primary Academy in Townsend.

The chequered past of the academies scheme, which was originally formulated under the Labour government, does suggest that it may be a drain on public money. There are also suggestions that it may help to create a new two-tier system of public schooling, where the best teachers are poached for jobs at academy schools.

On academy criticism, Steve Kennings said “the world is changing rapidly and you have to adjust, if it’s going to benefit young people you’ve got to go for it.”

Next September, Townsend Primary Academy will first open with two reception classes of 30 students, however once fully operational the academy will cater to around 330 students.

The success of the governments academies scheme remains to be seen, however the people of Townsend will no-doubt be looking forward to a brand new school right on their doorstep.

Main image: Wiki Commons

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