New Hall School, a catholic boarding school in Chelmsford, Essex, is the first private school to be approved by the Government to sponsor a primary academy.
Following a request from the sponsored school, and after months of reported encouragement from Education Secretary Michael Gove and Prime Minister David Cameron, the independent school has agreed to look after nearby Messing-cum-Inworth Community Primary.
The 40-pupil primary school asked New Hall for help after a poor Ofsted inspection put them into special measures.
This becomes one of few private schools sponsoring state academies, despite Cameron’s encouragement last year, and will be the first to sponsor a primary academy.
Other examples of fee-paying schools sponsoring state academies include Wellington College’s Wellington Academy; Dulwich College’s Isle of Sheppey Academy in Kent; and Marlborough College’s co-sponsorship of Swindon Academy with Honda and football association, @Futsal.
New Hall’s principal, Katherine Jeffrey said one of the biggest issues stopping private schools from sponsoring academies is their reputation if the sponsorship fails.
She believes, however, New Hall has the necessary expertise to turn Messing-cum-Inworth around.
“If it doesn’t work then I would rather be one of those schools that went out there and tried to make a difference,” she told the TES. “We don’t want to sit on the fence.”
The intention had been for New Hall to sponsor a secondary academy, but when the opportunity to sponsor Messing-cum-Inworth came around, the private school’s decision to sponsor it was unanimous.
Bob Wiggins, chair of governors at Messing, said joining forces was a “positive step”.
“This is a unique opportunity to share expertise between the independent and state sector,” he told the TES.
Schools Minister Lord Hill hoped other private schools would follow suit.
However, David Levin, headmaster of the City of London School and chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference said this was unlikely since the fact private schools would be forced to pay off pension deficits for academies’ back office staff and this could put many schools off.
“The Government requires schools to clear all pension deficits for support staff within seven years, which will take quite a chunk out of a school’s annual maintenance grant,” he commented.
He therefore believes most private schools would only be willing to get involved with academies that are already under sponsorship with an academy chain like Ark.