Berwick High School head responds to parents' fears

A HEADTEACHER last night moved to quell fears a bid for academy status would disrupt the area's education system.

Berwick High School headteacher Steve Quinlan
Berwick High School headteacher Steve Quinlan

A HEADTEACHER last night moved to quell fears a bid for academy status would disrupt the area's education system.

Steve Quinlan, head at Berwick High School, responded to the worries of a town middle school headteacher and parents over the impact of his bid for academy status.

The high school has formally applied to the Government for the change, which would see it funded directly by the Department for Education rather than money being routed through the local authority. The proposal is not, however, binding as the school can withdraw it up until a funding agreement is signed, while the secretary of state can also refuse it.

Consultation on the move is currently taking place, with a public meeting to be held at the school tonight at 7pm.

Ahead of the meeting, parents of pupils children at the high school and Tweedmouth Middle School have voiced fears academy status could affect the admissions policy in the area.

Parents say the move could see the area switch from three to two-tier education “by the back door,” which would see children start secondary education at 11 rather than the current 13.

In 2005 moves to instigate such a change across Northumberland were defeated after parents and middle schools got up a 35,000-signature petition.

They claim the change could disrupt pupils’ education and harm Berwick’s feeder middle schools, including Tweedmouth and also schools at Wooler, Belford and another in Berwick, which are funded through pupil numbers and would lose two year groups.

Chris Durie, headteacher at the Tweedmouth school, has written a letter in response to the consultation, which it is understood voices similar concerns.

But last night, Mr Quinlan said children starting secondary education at 11 did not form part of the school’s application.

He said: “We have no wish to re-open that two-tier, three-tier debate that ran across Northumberland four or five years ago.”

He added the bid was solely for the high school and that it did not relate to the feeder schools.

Mr Quinlan, however, said the school was not planning on withdrawing from the Berwick partnership of schools and that he would continue to be a member of the county’s headteachers association.

He said: “We are not withdrawing into our castle and pulling up the bridge.”

One parent, who did not want to be named, claimed the application was driven by a “financial hole” in the high school’s budget and the desire for a “quick financial fix.” She said: “The huge concern among parents is it is a huge gamble with children’s education and really for short-term gain.”

Mr Quinlan admitted there is a financial advantage to academy status at present, as it would free up extra funding which currently goes to the local authority.

However, he added the Government is changing the way it funds schools in future.

The head also said the school does not have a financial hole and insisted academy status is only granted to those in a sound financial position.

Mr Quinlan said the idea of freedom from local authority control is the main reason for the bid.

He said: “We are going for it because we are quite attracted by the idea of independence and being autonomous.”

Parents said they were concerned over lack of accountability from an academy no longer answerable to the local authority.

They also say there is a lack of alternative provision in the Berwick area if they were not satisfied at how a new academy performed, with the nearest secondary schools at Alnwick or in Scotland.

 

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