A major review under way at all state schools in North Tyneside will assess classroom figures, the finances and condition of buildings across the borough.
But a row has erupted between the council, schools and the National Union of Teachers after a letter sent out to parents on Friday night claimed that Kings Priory Academy at Tynemouth was “affecting” the current school system.
The school, which is the first ever merger between a private school and state primary school and won David Cameron’s backing, said surplus places in North Tyneside are solely down to the council’s lack of planning.
David Bilton, chief executive officer of the Woodard Academies Trust, the sponsor of Kings Priory School, said: “It is entirely misleading to point the finger at Kings Priory School for the number of surplus school places in the North Tyneside area.
“The academy has had an impact of just 2% at secondary level, moving surplus places from 18% to 20%.
“The children at Kings Priory School account for less than 5% of the children in education in the borough. The issue of 20% surplus school places is not a result of the formation of Kings Priory School but a result of the council’s own lack of long-term strategic planning.”
The letter released to parents on Friday night caused outcry among those whose children attend Kings Priory Academy for its direct reference to their school.
The statement sent out by Jean Griffiths, head of children, young people and learning at North Tyneside Council, said the review, which is led by headteachers, had been commissioned due to changes in birth rate, the location of where families live and the introduction of Kings Priory Academy.
She wrote: “Some of our schools have almost a quarter of their places unfilled, whereas some are over-subscribed.”
A parent whose child goes to Kings Priory Academy, but who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “A lot of this is to do with birth rate and not the fact that Kings Priory has emerged. They haven’t taken that many kids out of the state system.
“My worry would be that the council are trying to pin the blame on Kings Priory.”
National Union of Teachers representative for the North East region, Mike McDonald, said the schools situation in North Tyneside was an example of the mess created by Michael Gove’s educational reforms.
He believes any school unhappy with the result of a review into its pupil numbers would be offered the protection from closure by converting to an academy.
He said: “Some might become academies and the council will have a diminishing pool of schools. In 10 years you might not have a single school that the council can manage, even though they might have surplus places with taxpayers’ money going into them.”
Coun Judith Wallace, leader of the Conservative group for North Tyneside Council, said their focus during the review would be to protect the current three-tier system of first, middle and high schools which still exists in parts of North Tyneside.
The authority’s elected Labour mayor, Norma Redfearn said: “We cannot ignore the fact that we do have an imbalance between supply and demand for school places, and it is our responsibility to work with our schools to address this. Surplus places have been a growing issue for some time, an issue which the council’s previous administration failed to successfully deal with.
“The creation of Kings Priory Academy has had an impact on the shape of the North Tyneside schools system, and this is being taken into account as part of the review.”