Free school head sets sights on top universities for her students

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THE HEAD of the first sixth form free school in Yorkshire says she wants to get the majority of its students into elite Russell Group universities by focusing on academic subjects.

Rebeccca Maxted also told The Yorkshire Post that she was not worried by a planning row which could potentially leave the free school in Sheffield without a permanent home from September.

The Chapeltown Academy opened on the Hydra Business Park in September last year, with permitted development rights which meant it did not need planning permission in its first year.

The plan was to relocate this September into an adjacent former distribution centre building which it planned to convert into school premises. However earlier this month Sheffield City Council’s planning and highways committee rejected the plan over concerns about a school being based on a business park and the loss of a site which was designated for industrial use.

Mrs Maxted said: “We are not worried. The council’s own officers recommended this application for approval. We think the councillors objections were misguided and it will be overturned.

“It has not affected our applications. We have had 200 so far for the 150 places in year 12 in September.

The school opened with 56 - meaning its first cohort was just over a third full. However Mrs Maxted said she was confident it would be full with 300 students within two years.

She came to the school having worked in schools, further education and universities. She has also done teacher training and as a student she read theology at Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

She said: “ I came to this school because its ethos chimed with everything that I think about education. We all know the figures about admissions to top universities and how many people in top professions are privately educated.” She said the aims of Chapeltown Academy was to ensure students could get into the country’s leading universities irrespective of their own background.

She describes Chapeltown Academy’s approach as “unashamedly academic”. The school is split into three faculties: science and maths; languages and social sciences and humanities. The subjects its teaches are those identified as “facilitating” subjects by the Russell Group universities. Mrs Maxted said: “We are very ambitious for our students. We want the majority to be able to go to the top Russell Group or other leading universities. I am so proud of what our students have achieved so far and I am confident about our first set of AS results this summer.”

Last year before Chapeltown opened Labour’s Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, questioned the need for the school and the location - describing the project as risky . She also said the project was not being locally driven, during a Westminster Hall debate At the time the school’s director of education Ali Jaffer dipsuted all of these claims. Mrs Maxted said: “We have had setbacks and opposition and so the latest planning decision was not entirely unexpected. We are aware that as the first sixth form free school in South Yorkshire we are trailblazers and that free schools have a political dimension to it but we are not interested in that. We are educators and if anyone wanted to come and see us I think they would be impressed by what is happening here for these young people.”