College goes for academy status

Barry Found headteacher at Ripon College
Barry Found headteacher at Ripon College
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RIPON College is set to leave local authority control and convert to academy status following a unanimous vote by school governors.

The Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove has issued an order allowing the school to be directly funded by central Government.

Now the college is awaiting details of its funding arrangement with his department before the change in status is finalised.

Because Ripon College received only a ‘satisfactory’ grade in its last Ofsted inspection report in 2008, the Government stipulates the school must have an academic sponsor. As part of the conversion process it will join the Wakefield-based Outwood Grange family of schools.

College principal Barry Found said: “We want to break through the ceiling we have at present due to our size and geographical location.

“We want to become an ‘outstanding’ school.

“Even if we could, it is unlikely we would become an academy on our own because it’s not a case of money – it’s about partnerships. We have been looking for partnerships for some time that share our educational philosophy, we can contribute to and will take our young people to the next step forward.”

The change to academy status is expected to take effect from September and Ripon College will be one of six schools in the family alongside Harrogate High School.

As an Outwood Grange family school, senior staff from Ripon College will share methods of best-practice with its other partners. There will also be scope for joint events for the schools’ students, such as sports, educational visits, and drama productions.

Mr Found said: “We have some very effective systems and structures that complement other schools in the family.

“Equally, there are things we can learn.”

Outwood Grange Academy has been ranked as an ‘outstanding’ school by Ofsted, and its head – Michael Wilkins – has been championed by Michael Gove as a “great school leader”.

But Outwood Grange has also faced criticism from Wakefield council over financial controls in place while the school was still under the local authority’s control before it became an academy in 2009.

An audit report found £147,000 of consultancy fees paid into Mr Wilkins’ private company, Challenge Leadership Ltd, for carrying out two years of support work at other schools were not “subject to the necessary levels of authorisation and on this basis were not legitimate”.

The council also called into question the way significant sums of public money were spent on rewards for staff – including £499 to send a teacher and her partner for a trip on the Orient Express as a reward for her performance.

In a statement, Outwood Grange Academies Trust said: “Many of the issues in the report relate to temporary remumeration arrangements put in place in 2007 which have since been superseded as the entire remumeration received by Mr Wilkins for his extensive work for the academy and for his energetic external National Leader in Education work is now paid solely on the basis of a single approved salary and benefits package.

“With respect to the other school fund transactions mentioned in the report, Outwood Grange Academies Trust believes in saying thank you to its hard working staff and organises occasional events to do so.”

Joining the Outwood Grange family of schools will produce one visible change immediately for Ripon College. It is getting a new logo featuring the Outwood slogan, ‘Students First’.

The logo will feature on the new black-coloured uniform which Outwood Grange is issuing free to each of Ripon College’s 480 students from September.

l Is academy status the right step for Ripon College? Email or write to the Gazette at 5 Kirkgate, Ripon.