Fresh calls for Crawley academy to be returned to local authority control

The leader of Crawley Borough Council has repeated calls for one of the town’s academies to be returned to local authority control.

Thomas Bennett Community College, Crawley
Thomas Bennett Community College, Crawley

Peter Lamb spoke after Thomas Bennett Community College was named by the Department for Education as one of three secondary schools in West Sussex which failed to meet the minimum standards set by the government.

Mr Lamb said: “Thomas Bennett was once one of the best value added schools in West Sussex, it’s a very sad day to see how far it has fallen since academisation.

“No parent in Crawley should be forced to send their child to a failing school.

Peter Lamb, Labour leader of Crawley Borough Council

“The public must now be given back control over Thomas Bennett, to make the school accountable to the community once more.”

However, The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT), which runs the school, said it had ‘invested heavily’ in its future and was already seeing improvements.

A spokesman said: “The school has a new headteacher, Stuart Smith, who has an impressive track record building school performance, and an additional senior leader has been seconded to join him.

“Intensive support for specific subject areas has also been introduced and outcomes are already improving.”

Thomas Bennett has been the subject of much discussion at County Hall, Chichester, over the past months.

The resignation of the old headteacher and a dozen staff, coupled with threats of strike action and concerns about cuts to the school’s budget, left many members of the public asking why the county council couldn’t step in and help.

Richard Burrett, cabinet member for education and skills, reported that he became ‘quite weary’ of the question because, once a school has become an academy, it falls outside of local authority control.

At the request of fellow councillors, he wrote to the government to ask for authorities to be given powers to intervene when academies run into trouble.

A county spokesman said: “Following a letter to education secretary Damian Hinds in August last year, the council continues to engage with central government to lobby for changes to give local authorities greater powers to intervene with academies where problems are identified.

“In exceptional circumstances and where it is agreed to be in the interests of the individual school, the council believes there should be the option for academy-run schools to return to local authority control.”