JUST over a year ago, in July 2011, we made a significant leap as Hummersknott School and Language College and became Hummersknott Academy.

Reflecting on the past year or so, I have only one regret – that we did not do it sooner.

Academies are independent, non-selective, statefunded schools that fall outside the control of local authorities and are managed by a private team of independent co-sponsors.

The sponsors then delegate the management of the school to a largely self-appointed board of governors.

Each governing body is responsible for employing staff, agreeing pay and conditions of service with its employees and deciding on the school’s policies on staffing structure, career development, discipline and performance management.

Our academy status means that Hummersknott, as well as being independent of local authority control, makes all the decisions on how our budget is spent and how we implement the national curriculum.

Under the coalition Government’s policy, a school like Hummersknott, which was assessed by independent inspector, Ofsted, as “good with outstanding features”, is able to convert to an academy without the involvement of sponsors.

We arrived at the decision to become an academy in January last year, following extensive consultation with staff, parents and students as well as the wider local community, which uses the school’s leisure facilities out of hours.

It was not a difficult decision to make, given the fact that we had already identified several elements of school funding that could be more effectively deployed. We were keen to make those changes and we recognised that academy status could help us target funding more effectively to areas that needed it most.

For us, it is about feeling that we can deliver the services we require at better value for money. It is also about being able to further improve the education for children here.

Our governing body, The Hummersknott Academy Trust, consists of representatives from parents, staff and the local community. Admission procedures continue to be conducted by Darlington Borough Council and we are committed to the existing admission arrangements.

Since becoming an academy in July 2011, we have undoubtedly been able to target areas where funding is needed most. As a result, we have employed additional staff, thereby helping to reduce class sizes and implement special one-to-one tuition for students.

Funding has also been allocated to the programme of staff training and development, teaching resources and investment in new ICT equipment.

The academy has also funded new dining room facilities, and we have carried out planned refurbishment work on the school’s kitchen during the summer holidays, which has substantially improved our environment for the 1,200 students attending our school.

Academy status also means that Hummersknott has, for the first time, been able to deliver the Duke of Edinburgh Award to students.

The hundred Hummersknott students now going through the programme are starting to take part in volunteering, physical and skills activities and an expedition to achieve bronze awards.

Last month, we celebrated the achievements of our students after 78.5 per cent gained five A* to C grades, including English and maths, which represents our best ever results.

While at a national level there has been a decline in the number of students achieving the “gold standard” this year, we have seen a percentage point improvement in these results.

The academy was also recently ranked in the top ten per cent of non-selective schools in England for students achieving five A* and A grades, including English and maths, in new rankings released by the Schools Network.

ITRULY believe that at least a part of this success has been achieved thanks to our independent status and the fact that we can invest in areas such as increased teaching resources.

Aside from improvements in the school’s facilities, our strategic investment in new ICT equipment is benefiting each and every student.

Going forward, we would like to share our overwhelmingly positive experience of being an academy school by sponsoring other schools.

Sponsoring, or nurturing a school, to become an academy is one of the key things I would like Hummersknott to concentrate on.

We are now in advanced consultation with Skerne Park Primary School, which will see it becoming an academy under our sponsorship.

As sponsors, we will work closely with them to develop the organisation, staffing, management and leadership and raise standards in both academies.

I am very proud that since becoming an academy over a year ago, Hummersknott Academy has gone from strength to strength.

Our budget has been freed up to concentrate on areas where funding is needed most, and we have been able to channel investment to make some real and tangible strides forward.

We have also been able to maximise our resources and to concentrate on teaching and learning to an evergreater extent, which has led to some tangible achievements.

I am so proud of what we have achieved and of our staff, parents and the wider community who have made it all possible.