MP claims new free school is ‘not needed’

Artist's impression of Chapeltown Acedemy
Artist's impression of Chapeltown Acedemy
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A YORKSHIRE MP has urged ministers to back out of plans for a new sixth form free school which she claims is not needed and is set to open on an “unsuitable” office and warehouse site.

Angela Smith strongly criticised what she described as “risky” proposals for the Chapeltown Academy, on a business park in Sheffield, which has been given initial Government support.

The group planning the school have hit back saying it does have demand for places from local students and is set to open this year.

The proposed free school, which could be one of the first in South Yorkshire, aims to provide a range of academic A-levels and is recruiting students from Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley.

During a Parliamentary debate about the school Ms Smith, the Labour MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said: “Chapeltown academy is not needed, it is not locally driven, it is in an inappropriate location, there is very little transparency in the development of the venture and it is risky.”

The school is set to have 300 places for 16 to 19-year-olds but Ms Smith told MPs that only 12 students from Sheffield had chosen it as their first choice for September. The school’s director of education Ali Jaffer disputed this figure and told The Yorkshire Post it had made more than 130 offers to students - the majority of which had been accepted.

Ms Smith also raised concerns about the site of the Chapeltown Academy. She added: “It is in the middle of an industrial park. It is a big warehouse, with office space attached to it...The local authority planners, who are professionals, have raised serious concerns about the site’s sustainability. They are also concerned about the highways implications of the proposed site and the associated safety of students.”

Education Minister Edward Timpson said the Department for Education would make a decision on Chapeltown Academy’s funding agreement soon. He told MPs the school had provided robust evidence of demand when it applied and had 81 students who had accepted places.

Mr Jaffer said that Ms Smith was wrong to claim the project was not locally driven as he had developed the bid after working as a teacher in Sheffield and seeing the demand for a sixth form in the North of the city focused on academic subjects.

He also described the school’s site as one of the project’s strengths. “We are very excited about the architects plans to create a bespoke school space,” he added. The school is set to open initially in a refurbished office building before the warehouse is redeveloped.