Governors face crunch decision on future of Matlock school as campaigners fear being shut out

As governors of a Matlock school prepare for a crunch decision on taking the organisation out of Derbyshire County Council’s hands, the headteacher has sought to quell fears that parents and staff are being denied a voice.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 6:35 pm

Highfields governors have been considering converting it into an academy since 2017, and in early 2020 held an informal consultation on joining East Midland Education Trust, a family of schools based in Nottingham.

The process was later paused due to the pandemic but on Thursday, March 25, governors will debate moving on to a formal consultation.

However, opponents – including hundreds of signatories of an online petition – fear the outcome has already been decided, with a Government website currently showing a conversion date of August 31.

Helen Cunningham, a parent involved in the Hands Off Highfields campaign, said: “It's unfair to proceed when parents can't hold meetings and governors are only providing a one-sided view.

“Academisation removes any democratic control from parents. We just don't understand why the governors are pushing ahead despite nearly 700 signatures against this. If it is such a good idea why are they trying to do it without talking to the community?”

Headteacher Andrew Marsh, who says academisation is in the school’s long-term interests, says the website listing has arisen from an error at the Department for Education.

He said: “We have asked the DfE to take that down. I think they have assumed a date based on the usual timeframes, and have not accounted for our decision to pause.

The Hands Off Highfields campaign picketing the school last year.
The Hands Off Highfields campaign picketing the school last year.

“A school legally cannot convert without formal consultation and, if governors decide to move to that stage, we will write to all stakeholders asking for their views.

“I understand this is an emotive decision with political connotations, and it is only fair that we have an honest debate about what’s best for our students. But we would never dream of moving forward with something as significant as this without consultation.”

The Hands Off campaign is hosting an online public meeting at 7pm on Monday, March 29, with speakers from the National Education Union and Anti Academies Alliance.

To register to attend, go to https://bit.ly/398fmNm.

The school has set out the case for academisation at https://bit.ly/398gl0a.

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