A FAILING school is being forced to become an academy.

Darwen Vale High is the first secondary school in East Lancashire to be told it has to make the move.

The decision by the Government comes after it received the worst possible rating from inspectors in August. But furious union chiefs have criticised the Department for Education decision, which has only been used in ‘a very small number of cases’ across the country, and claimed the school was unfairly treated by Ofsted.

They argued inspectors had a clear agenda to fail the school, paving the way for it to become another academy, in order to comply with Michael Gove’s mission to break up and privatise local authority education.

Angry governers, who have also vowed to continue to fight the decision, last night refused a suggestion from the Department for Education that it become the latest Aldridge Foundation sponsored school.

The organisation already runs the town’s only other secondary school Darwen Aldridge Community Academy.

Bosses at Blackburn with Darwen Council have also pledged they will not allow the Government to ‘bully’ them into accepting its preferred sponsor.

Council leader Coun Kate Hollern said: “The school has made great improvements recently.

“If it does become an academy, the people of Darwen should have a choice and not be forced to go to a school run by one organisation.”

The Lancashire Telegraph understands the governors favour Blackburn Diocese as the school sponsor.

Headteacher Fiona Jack, who came to the school in January last year following concerns management was failing to back up teachers when disciplining unruly pupils, said: “We are working extremely hard to continue our journey of improvement and would expect to be a critical part of any decision about the best way to move our school forward.

“At the very least we would expect there to be opportunities for staff, parents and pupils to be consulted rather than having a decision forced on us.

“I will continue to push to be part of the dialogue but in the interim, we will continue to strive for excellence to ensure that Darwen Vale remains a school that pupils are proud to attend.”

If the change to an academy was to go ahead, it would mean all staff contracts being transferred from the council to the new sponsors.

It would also mean just four of the borough’s 10 secondary schools remained within the council’s remit.

Unions said they had not ruled out balloting their members for strike action to oppose the forced change of employer.

Simon Jones, NUT executive member, labelled the Government ‘bullies’ for trying to force academy status on the school.

He said: “Darwen Vale is a good school that is already improving rapidly.

“The school has many dedicated, loyal and inspirational teachers.

“I believe the bullies from the DfE have seriously underestimated the resolve of union members and the local community.

“We will fight a very vigorous campaign to save the school from being forced into the hands of private sponsors.”

John Girdley, NASUWT executive member, said: “If the DfE gets its way a predatory southern based academy chain will take over Darwen Vale to run it for profit and the children and staff will be the losers.”

Kathy Eagar, Association of Teachers and Lecturers executive member, said: “The dangers of Vale becoming an academy would be the potential impact to our local children and young people.

“The local authority ensures the provision of services such as behaviour support, child and adolescent health and social care as well as training and professional development for staff.

“The removal of this support is a serious cause for concern.”

Last year the school re-opened following a BSF £24million rebuild of its site in Blackburn Road, making it one of the most modern in the county.

Darwen MP Jake Berry said parents didn’t care about whether or not a school was an academy or local authority controlled, as long as it provided a good enough education.

He said: “The new headteacher has already made some really good progress at Darwen Vale.

“But I do not think parents in Darwen care about whether the school is an academy or not. They care about the education of their children.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The Secretary of State does have the power to intervene and establish an Interim Executive Board (IEB) where results continue to cause real concern but this is a last resort and has only been used on a very small number of cases.”

Nobody at The Aldridge Foundation was available to comment.