'Mexican stand off' over school plans

SCHOOL bosses and council officers are in what has been described as a 'Mexican stand off' over plans by a Portishead school to go it alone. Gordano School is poised to opt out of local council control and be run by its governors, with the changes coming

SCHOOL bosses and council officers are in what has been described as a 'Mexican stand off' over plans by a Portishead school to go it alone.Gordano School is poised to opt out of local council control and be run by its governors, with the changes coming into force from October 1.The changes would mean although the school would still have to attain the educational and curricular criteria laid down by the Government, whilst North Somerset Council would retain overall responsibility for standards at the school.It would also mean the school could apply for charitable status and manage its own admissions policy and look at ways of improving the curriculum and enhancing its facilities for the community.But the move has hit a stumbling block over the issue of whether support staff at the school, such as caretakers, technicians and classroom assistants, can remain in the Local Government Pension Scheme.North Somerset Council agreed all support staff could remain in the scheme, subject to the school agreeing to a number of conditions relating to sick pay, retirement, redundancy and a number of property transfer issues .But now, in the latest twist, school bosses have said they will not comply with the conditions, claiming the law states they do not have to. Now it looks as if the school's bid to secure foundation status next month could be further delayed.School headteacher Graham Silverthorne said: "We had initially hoped to become a foundation school on September 1 and we were forced to defer because of the vote on pension rights which should have taken place months ago."Although the council has agreed support staff can retain the same pension rights there are a number of conditions attached to it which we are not happy to and do not legally have to abide by. "Effectively, we are being bullied. "We want to get this issue resolved as soon as possible so we can change over as planned at the beginning of October, but the local authority is being extremely uncooperative. "We have the law on our side and we will not be intimidated "North Somerset Council executive member for children and young people's services, Councillor Jeremy Blatchford said the authority would stand firm. Cllr Blatchford said: "We are not budging on the pensions' issue. "Other schools in the district which have chosen to go down the foundation and trust status route have all happily signed up to the pension conditions and I am unsure why Gordano is finding it difficult to do the same."Gordano School, which has 180 employees and 1,711 pupils, has an operating budget in excess of £7million annually.


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