Parents take legal advice over Newcastle schools merger

PARENTS are taking legal advice after plans were announced to merge two private schools in Newcastle.

Central Newcastle High School and Church High School head Joy Gatenby
Central Newcastle High School and Church High School head Joy Gatenby

PARENTS are taking legal advice after plans were announced to merge two private schools in Newcastle.

Newcastle Central High School and Church High School in Jesmond announced in an email to parents on Monday that they are to join together to create the new Newcastle High School for Girls, opening in September 2014.

As the news was formally announced to pupils at the schools yesterday, girls took to the internet to express their shock.

Parents also told of their anger at the move, which they say was made without any consultation, though others thought it could be a positive step.

Public meetings will be held at Central High today to discuss the plans.

But a mother whose daughter attends Central High said anger is so strong among some parents that they are taking legal advice to see if there is a way of halting the merger.

She said: “They are talking about wiping out over 100 years of traditions at both the schools. They have very different cultures and parents have made a choice as to which to send their daughters.

“My daughter told me both pupils and staff have been in tears, and there are bound to be staff redundancies.

“The public meetings tonight are going to be very stormy, I am sure.”

Church High parent Alex Hunter, 31, of Gosforth, Newcastle, said she was considering moving her daughter, who is in nursery, following the announcement.

She said: “I am disappointed and unsure what to so. It was quite a shock getting the email.”

Zoe Urwin, 37, of Heaton, Newcastle, said she had mixed emotions about the merger. She said: “I think it is terribly sad. My daughter has been here at Church High since she was two and a half and she is devastated, but she can see the positives. We are just hoping it will get the best from both schools.”

School leaders have defended the decision, saying it was essential to provide their pupils with the best facilities to deal with a fast moving world. They denied the economic climate was to blame.

Joy Gatenby, head of Church High, who will stay on full-time as an adviser to the new school until her retirement in 2015 said: “Church High is a strong school, we own all our own property and have no debt and both schools could have continued on alone for many years to come.

“But we live in a technological world that is moving very fast, and we did not have the ability to make the kind of investment we would have liked.”

Central High’s Hilary French, who will become head of the new school, added: “I know everybody is shocked and this has come as a surprise, but I hope they will soon see it is an opportunity for the girls to have an absolutely outstanding school.”

The two existing schools will operate in parallel for the next academic year, fully merging in 2014 in a bid to ensure minimum disruption to the girls.

The proposal is to redevelop the Church High site on Tankerville Terrace into a multi-million-pound facility for use as the senior school and sixth form.

Junior pupils will be accommodated at the recently-refurbished Central High Chapman House site, Sandyford.

This is the latest in a series of changes to hit Tyneside’s independent school sector.

In 2001, Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School took on girls for the first time to become co-educational.

La Sagesse, in Jesmond, closed in 2008, and last year Kings School in Tynemouth announced it was to become a non-fee paying academy by merging with the state-funded Priory Primary School in Tynemouth.

They are talking about wiping out over 100 years of traditions at both the schools

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