A WEST Berkshire school under fire for blocking cheerleading pupils from attending a major competition has responded to criticism.
Pupils at the Willink School in Burghfield Common were told that they could not attend their school prom if they went to the senior world championships with their Crimson Heat Tigers squad.
Club founder Gareth Green said the decision was odd, adding “every girl wants to go to their prom. Why you would use that as a punishment, I don’t know.”
Former pupil and Olympic gold medallist Chris Mears tweeted his old school to think about its decision.
Dear Willink school... you supported me through all my competitions as a young and aspiring high performance athlete. PLEASE reconsider this amazing opportunity for these cheerleaders. They have earned the right to compete for their country!— Chris Mears (@ChrisMears93) January 24, 2018
In a statement issued yesterday (Thursday) The Willink said it had received more than 100 emails relating to the issue, "largely from the cheerleading fraternity".
The school has said that it has not banned pupils from taking part in the trip, or banned year 11 pupils from attending this year's prom.
It added that The Willink cannot authorise the absence of pupils during the run up to their GCSEs but was talking with the parents of the pupils concerned.
A statement from headteacher Peter Fry said: "It is wonderful to hear from passionate supporters of the sport. We also thank parents, students and ex-students of Willink who have joined this lively debate and given their considered views.
"The Willink views the annual cheerleading trip to America as a great venture for our students.
"Each year we approve student absence from school – as an approved sporting activity - and on their return we celebrate their successes in assemblies and through our newsletter “We Link”.
"This year we have students participating once again. The school has approved or is in the process of approving the absence from school of two year 10 students to go to the US.
"With regard to two year 11 students who have applied for leave of absence, we have not approved their absence from school as the trip takes up a significant period of time just prior to their GCSE examinations.
"These students went on the cheerleading trip to the USA last year when their attendance on the trip was approved.
"We are not saying these same students cannot go again; this is a matter of parental choice.
"What we have said is that we cannot authorise their absence this time around.
"Parents may contact the school about this decision and we, as always, are happy to discuss the matter further with them – indeed conversations have already taken place as would be normal in a school."
The Newbury-based squad will be competing at the world finals in Orlando Florida in April and squad members have raised £1,300 each for the "once in a lifetime" opportunity.
The Crimson Heat Tigers were the first non-american team to win the Summit World Championships in Orlando last year.
Mr Green had asked schools last July for information on exams so that he could draw up a strict training and revision programme for the 25-strong squad.
He said: “This is a once in a lifetime event. They might not qualify for this level ever again.
“I’m hoping it was a rash decision and not thought through. To be the one school in the whole of the UK seems almost embarrasing.”