A TOP-PERFORMING Catholic school and sixth form college has become the first for the Newcastle and Hexham Diocese to become an academy.
St John’s in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, which is rated as “outstanding” by government inspectors Ofsted, is one of the best performing in the country and it hopes to support even more schools following the academy conversion.
The school, which has 1,400 students, will continue its work as a National Support School, which will see it sharing methods in teaching and learning, behaviour and leadership with struggling schools from across the region.
Principal Frank O’Neill said: “The governors took a very careful approach to the process with a view to accountability and enhancing our ability to participate in the partnerships we already have.”
Now known as St John’s School and Sixth Form College, a Catholic Academy, it has also played a role in laying new ground for the transfer of land from local authority ownership when schools convert. Elaine McLaine, a solicitor with regional firm BHP Law who specialises in academy conversions, said: “Land owned by the local authority, which has buildings on it for voluntary aided schools for sport, has to transfer to the academy trust as part of the conversion process.
“The seamless way in which we were able to negotiate this with the local authority has shown the Secretary of State that they do not need to give consent in such cases. In this sense, St John’s has provided a model for the Department for Education for future conversions.”
Gerard Moran, executive principal at St John’s and a National Leader of Education, said greater freedoms over the curriculum and resources would allow the academy to continue providing the best education for young people.
“Our aim was to go through the conversion process making the most important decisions for the future but also continuing as an outstanding, outward looking school,” he said.
“The professional advisers we employed, BHP Law and Avec, have been superb. We were attracted to the fact that we would get people who not only had experience of working with schools but would also support us by working in partnership with the school and its governors. We work to the principle of employing local firms when we can so we were delighted to find local partners.”
St John’s was built in 1967 and extended in the 1970s, including the addition of a swimming pool. It underwent a £9m refurbishment between 2003 and 2005.