THE foremost supporter of a new County Durham academy has promised to work closely with the community to ensure its opening goes smoothly.
Last week it was announced New College Durham would be the new lead sponsor of Consett Academy after Durham University pulled out.
The Durham University decision was just the latest in a series of setbacks to Durham County Council’s plans to merge two Consett schools to form a 1,700 student academy.
Locals said they did not want the new school built at Belle Vue, but the council have insisted it will be built on that site by 2014, while the coalition Government awarded the authority £20.7m for the project, £12m less than had been promised by Labour.
But John Widdowson, principal of New College, promised: “The academy will be an outstanding school for the 21st century”
Mr Widdowson, CBE, who began his career as a lawyer in local government before holding a series of teaching posts and who is a member of the Board of the Association of Colleges, said New College’s experience as lead sponsor of a similar academy at nearby Stanley would stand his organisation in good stead.
He said: “We applied to be lead sponsor of Consett Academy at the same time as we applied to become lead sponsor at Stanley. At the time we were disappointed not to be chosen as Consett’s lead sponsor, but now we are delighted that we have been asked to replace Durham University.
“In this era of austerity it is fantastic news that the young people of the Consett area are receiving this investment for a new academy with a new sports centre next door.
“A lot of areas would love to be in receipt of the investment Consett is getting.”
Refuting claims that New College was the second best option after Durham University withdrew as lead sponsor, Mr Widdowson added: “The university has strong connections with businesses involved in research and development, but we have very strong connections with the area.
“Students from Consett have been coming to New College, Durham for years.
“We have had excellent Ofsted reports and very strong connections with local businesses.
“There have been some problems along the way which have been unfortunate but we must now look to the future and work towards building a first class academy in a brand new building.”
The academy will be formed by the merger of Moorside Community Technology College and Consett Community Sports College and will operate from a split site, probably from January next year, until the new building is ready in three years. Philip Archer, chair of governors at Moorside, who had announced a bid by staff and governors at both schools to take over as lead sponsor in the wake of the Durham University announcement, said: "We would like to thank the many local stakeholders who have enthusiastically backed our initiative to replace Durham University as lead sponsor.”