CAMPAIGNERS have criticised the University of Chester’s decision to sponsor a controversial academy in Ellesmere Port.
Keep Ellesmere Port Schools (KeEPS) has opposed £25m plans to replace Ellesmere Port Specialist School of Performing Arts (EPSSPA) and Cheshire Oaks with a new facility which would also be sponsored by Cheshire County Council and the Church of England.
KeEPs has several concerns including loss of local control and accountability and fears those from poor backgrounds and children with special educational needs will be disadvantaged when applying to academies.
And Greg Foster of KeEPS has accused the university of sponsoring the scheme in the pursuit of self-interest rather than for altruistic reasons, although this is denied by vice chancellor Professor Tim Wheeler.
He asked: “Why would a university, with no experience of running a school, want to own a school? Well, if it specialises in training hundreds of teachers every year the answer is pretty obvious.
“Placing students is a problem teacher training institutions face every year.
“When I did my postgraduate certificate in education, I was based in Cambridge for the two terms that were taught and had to do my term’s teaching practice 180 miles away in Reading.
“Obviously this created enormous problems for the university especially when it involved tutors coming to observe my teaching.
“How much better it would have been for the university if they had their own school, on their doorstep, that they could’ve pushed hundreds of students through every year – and how bad would it have been for the pupils in that school, being taught by an endless stream of trainee teachers?
“Even better, what if the university didn’t have to pay the victim school for taking all its students?”
But in a statement, vice chancellor Professor Wheeler said the university “does not wish to concentrate” its teacher training placements in a handful of local schools.
He added: “The university enjoys links with more than 90 partner schools, and around 150 PGCE secondary students undertake placements every year.
“These schools are based throughout the North West, North Wales and Shropshire, and the university looks forward to maintaining and strengthening these links in the future.
“The university’s involvement in the proposed University CE Academy follows a speech by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families in July 2007, in which he said: ‘Many universities are already engaged with academies. I now want every university to actively engage with academies’.
“Academies combine innovative learning and teaching opportunities.
“The university believes all children and young people should be given the opportunity to fulfil their educational potential, and the proposed academy would provide brand new facilities, investment in staff and a fantastic learning infrastructure.”