Worried parents have been told that plans are in place to improve the standard of education at Berwick Academy.
School bosses moved to reassure parents following the creation of facebook group ‘Save our children’s education at Berwick Academy’.
The page, which accrued 600 members in two weeks, was being used as a forum to discuss ‘falling standards’ at the school, until the governing body called a public meeting to clarify its position and listen directly to concerns.
Around a hundred parents and community members attended the meeting last Wednesday. Issues raised included Ofsted reports; school finances; insufficient teacher numbers in the science department; and the perceived lack of accountability since the school became an Academy in 2011.
Michael Stewart said: “Twenty-four months ago there was an Ofsted report that was so bad the previous head and chair of governors offered to resign. Two years later we have got this many people here concerned about their children’s education. That’s two years that our children have had a sub standard education. Why is that still the case after 24 months?”
Another parent said: “My daughter has had her book in one subject marked twice this whole year. If the teachers can’t be bothered, why should the kids be bothered?”
Chair of governors Colin Frame recognised there had been problems. He said: “I have two kids at the school just now. I have so many similarities to some of the comments. I know all the problems about science and supply teachers and getting ready for GCSEs.
“I can assure you that the governing body is not afraid to challenge the school.”
He said that the governors had been “extremely disappointed” with the ‘requires improvement’ outcome of the last Ofsted inspection. “We had paid for external consultancy work in the year prior to the last inspection, which told us that the improvements required by Ofsted were happening. But Ofsted rejected that evidence,” Mr Frame said.
Parents heard that a new strategy called ‘The Berwick Academy Seven’, which focuses on the most important areas of teaching and learning, is set to be implemented in a bid to improve standards. It is a three year commitment but management say changes are already happening, and results will be seen “much sooner”.
“We had to make changes,” Mr Frame said. “We can not carry on doing the same thing or we’re digging a hole for ourselves. Mrs Widdowson and her team worked very hard to prepare a strategy, which Ofsted reviewed in December.”
Support for head teacher Alexis Widdowson has recently been secured with the appointment of new deputy Steve Wilkes. He told parents: “My job is to improve teaching and learning in this school and I can 100% assure you that I will spend all of my time doing that.”
A Northumberland County Council school improvement partner has also been secured in the past few weeks.
A number of parents expressed concerns over a lack of teachers in the science department. They were told that supply teachers, particularly in modern languages and science, were notoriously hard to recruit -a situation exacerbated by Berwick Academy’s location.
Partnership Governor Phil Green said that the school was exploring the possibility of sharing teachers with the middle schools when cover was needed. “This would make the school less vulnerable,” he said.
Talks are ongoing, but the governors said one of the benefits to come from the school’s “controversial” change to academy status had been improved links with the middle schools and other partnerships schools.
Mr Frame added that there was no “black hole” in the school’s budget, and said that the collapse of sale of school fields to the NHS had not affected the academy’s finances.
“We had planned for a £41,460 surplus in the budget. Accounts indicate we have a larger surplus than that at the moment, but there’s still three months to go before the end of the financial year,” Mr Frame said.
“A condition of any sale of school playing fields is that the money is ring fenced and can only be spent on sports facilities. There was never any option to spend it any where else. The fail of the sale therefore never had an impact on the budget as it was never in the budget in the first place.”
Parent Governor Mike Maud insisted there would be better communication from the school going forward.
“I hope that we can move on from facebook,” he said, adding: “There have been some positive things to come out of the group, and there have been some very unpleasant things. But it’s got us in this room, so it’s done its job.”
Councillor Gavin Jones, who represents Berwick North on Northumberland County Council, said: “This is the only none fee paying school for 30 miles.
“We have heard from the governors and the head teacher that they are open to hearing from us.
“It’s no good destroying the one school that we have got. We must all work together to get this working properly.”