A CITY leader has withdrawn council support from the region’s biggest college amid fears its free school plan will damage education across Tyneside.
Council leader Nick Forbes has written to Newcastle College bosses accusing them of backing an “outrageous and highly inflammatory” attack on local schools.
He claims this was made by education chiefs in order to advance a new bid to set up a free school in Newcastle.
In a letter to college governors, copied to all the head teachers in the city and the chief executive of NCG, parent group of Newcastle College, Mr Forbes said NCG’s plan to open a free school in the city’s West End is something his administration is “vehemently opposed to”.
But last night NCG chief executive Dame Jackie Fisher said her group “believes in young people, and believes they deserve a high quality education that gives them the right qualifications and experience to progress into good quality, sustainable jobs, higher education, or a solid, worthwhile apprenticeship”.
The row started when at a meeting last Wednesday John Collings, executive director of children’s services at the council, was informed that NCG would be submitting a bid to ministers this week to create a free school.
The officer was given a supporting leaflet which said children and young people are being “failed by their local schools”.
In response Mr Forbes has said NCG’s plans represent the “creeping marketisation of the education system”.
And because of that, he has withdrawn council support for another NCG bid to open a Government-backed university technical college.
Mr Forbes’ letter, addressed to chair of governors Jamie Martin and seen by The Journal, says that while the technical college would be beneficial to the city, the NCG-backed trust setting it up would effectively “be the vehicle whereby the school system would be potentially broken up and marketised”.
The spectacular row came after a meeting between the council and education bosses in which no mention was made of the group’s plans.
Mr Forbes says in his letter: “I am also deeply offended that you and Dame Jackie Fisher chose to withhold your plans for schools in Newcastle when we met recently.” He goes on to add: “This whole episode leaves a bitter taste, which will be difficult to overcome.”
The two NCG plans – creating a trust to open a free school and a college for engineering – will be been seen as key examples of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s flagship policies in action.
Mr Gove has already given NCG the go-ahead to bid for a share of a £100m pot of cash to create 10 colleges.
Newcastle College has nearly 30,000 students, and staff at NCG had previously enjoyed Mr Forbes’ backing for the technical college, and quoted him in publicity material. The group has now been told by Mr Forbes it must make clear this is no longer the case.
Last night Dame Jackie said: “We believe the University Technical College will be a major asset to the city of Newcastle and the wider region. We are committed to working with the government to bring millions of new investment to the young people of the North East.
“The Discovery UTC in Newcastle will make a difference to the lives of thousands of young people who aspire to careers in science, technology and engineering.”
Discussions on what happens next will be held between council and NCG staff.