AN OUTSTANDING primary school in Yorkshire has become one of the first in the country to convert into an academy after taking up the Government's offer of opting out of local council control to run itself independently.
Greetland Academy, near Halifax, is now funded directly from Government after becoming an autonomous state school with greater freedoms to change its curriculum, employment arrangements and admissions.
It is one of three primary schools across the region and seven across the country to accept Education Secretary Michael Gove's invitation allowing all outstanding state schools to opt out of their local authority if they want to.
Garforth Green Lane Primary school, in Leeds, became the first in Yorkshire to convert in November last year, to become the Green Lane Primary Academy. Greetland is one of two primary schools which have applied to leave Calderdale Council's control along with Scout Road Primary in Mytholmroyd.
Mr Gove has given orders to allow both schools to convert and Greetland will open as an academy for the first time this week.
The school's management believe the switch will allow it to tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of its children and be better placed to retain and recruit high quality staff.
Principal Amanda Bennett said: "Academy status provides many opportunities to take this successful school forward during a period of great uncertainty surrounding education funding.
"We will have the freedom to make our own financial and curriculum decisions and this in turn will secure the future of the school, as well as our ability to deliver consistently outstanding education that is tailored precisely to the requirements of our children.
"We will have the freedom to provide extra resources for our children; for example out-of-hours learning, ICT equipment and improvements to our buildings
"We will also be able to create and develop sponsorships and partnerships which will enhance our children's school experience."
Greetland's governing body unanimously voted to become an academy in June last year, before the Government had passed its legislation allowing outstanding schools to opt out of council control.
Minutes from a meeting in June in which the academy plan was given the go-ahead said: "The view of the chairman, head teacher and others was that this was a one-off opportunity to used to the advantage of Greetland School and its pupils and was a means for taking a successful school forward."
The decision to apply for academy status was made after a consultation process.
The coalition Government's Academies Act, which was passed in July, invited any school which is rated as outstanding by the education watchdog Ofsted to apply to become an academy.
Academies, which were introduced by the last Government 10 years ago, are run independently with funding directly from the Department for Education.
Under Labour, academies were originally opened as replacements for struggling secondary schools serving deprived communities, although an increasing number of stronger performing schools were turned into academies in the latter years of the programme.
Now the coalition wants to give the same freedoms to all schools including primaries and special schools.
Initially Mr Gove invited all outstanding schools to apply for academy status but this was extended, in November, to include all schools rated as being good. Any other school wishing to become an academy must agree to team up with a high performing partner.
Greetland is one of 142 state schools across the country which are converting to academy status in this academic year.
The Government has given academy orders, which releases schools from local authority control, to six schools in Yorkshire.
Three outstanding secondaries in the region are among these schools: Tollbar Business and Enterprise College and Healing School in Grimsby and Heckmondwike Grammar School.
A statement from Greetland Academy said the school planned to continue working with Calderdale Council but it said that being given greater financial freedom would mean it could access grants that would not be available if it remained a local education authority school and it would only need to spend money on services from the council which it felt benefited its pupils.
The chairman of the school's governing body Stephen Brierley said: "This is only the start of what promises to be an exciting journey for The Greetland Academy.
"We are convinced that transferring to academy status will preserve and protect our reputation as an outstanding school during a time of financial uncertainty in the education sector."
Greetland Primary School was built in 1899.
The school currently has 390 children and 60 staff.
It was rated as outstanding in its last full Ofsted inspection in 2007.
Inspectors said: "This is an outstanding school that provides an excellent education for its pupils and extremely good value for money. The standards that pupils reach are exceptionally high and their achievement is excellent."
Union criticises opt-out move
OUTSTANDING schools deciding to opt out of council control to become academies have been criticised by a teaching union leader in Calderdale.
The district has two of the first three primary schools in Yorkshire: Greetland and Scout Road, to have applied to leave council control under the Government's plans.
Calderdale's National Union of Teachers branch secretary Sue McMahon said, however, that the move would cause huge concern to any family whose children currently attend schools which decide to go it alone.
She said: "It is important that Governors have the full facts before being trapped into a seven-year sentence that has no get out of jail free card and no crock of gold."