Speculation untrue, says Berwick Academy head teacher

Berwick Acadamy head teacher Alexis Widdowson

Berwick Acadamy head teacher Alexis Widdowson

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Berwick Academy’s head teacher has branded rumours that teacher numbers at the school are falling as “absolute nonsense”.

Responding to claims made on Facebook that 15 teachers are set to leave at the end of term, Alexis Widdowson told the Advertiser: “There is a natural turnover at this time of year when children and parents become aware that some teachers are leaving.

“But the numbers that are being bandied about of 15/16/17 teachers going are absolute nonsense. This figure has popped up from somewhere and it’s simply not right.”

She also emphasised that the teachers who were leaving would be replaced, and said rumours that staff had to reapply for their jobs were “bonkers”.

“This is a school with a remarkably stable workforce, with the average service around eight-to-10 years, which is phenomenal in education,” Mrs Widdowson said.

“Staff turnover here is considerably below the DFE (Department for Education) number.

“There are two teachers retiring at the end of term and all the teachers that are leaving are being replaced. We’re actually increasing the number of staff in teaching next year.”

Her comments come following the creation of a Facebook page called ‘Save our children’s education at Berwick Academy’, which was set up last week. It is being used as a discussion board for parents concerned about teaching at the secondary school, which became an academy in 2011.

Issues raised include the quality and numbers of teachers at the school over the last 12 months, particularly in the science department.

Writing on the page, one parent commented: “My daughter is pleading with me to change her school. She has had 8-9 different teachers for science since Xmas.”

At the time of writing the page had 640 ‘likes’. But Mrs Widdowson has questioned the motives of those who set it up, and warned against irresponsible use of social media.

“A number of comments that have appeared on facebook are both incorrect and unfair,” she said.

“Look at the impact this is having on a school, and imagine the effect it could have on a 15-year-old.

“I think people need to be absolutely clear of the facts before they participate in any way.”

Mrs Widdowson admitted that there had been staffing issues in science for a “short period” at the start of the year, but said teaching had been stable in the department since January.

“There have been a number of women in the science department taking maternity leave over the last few years, which may create a feeling that teachers are in and out,” she explained.

“We have had an issue there that has been compounded this year due to one member of staff being on sick leave.

“There was a period in January when we expected a member of staff to come back from sick leave and they did not. We did not have a supply teacher ready on a long term contract and we spent about two weeks looking for the right person, as we will always provide the best possible cover that we can

“That was a short period of time in January and we have had appropriate cover in place since then.”

A public meeting for anyone with concerns about the school, arranged by the governors to “clarify and explain” points raised in the facebook group, was due to be held last night.

Chair of Governors Colin Frame said: “Education in Berwick is an extremely complex issue which does not lend itself to being explained via social media.

“Both the school and the wider community want what is best for its students. Education is such an important topic it deserves proper consideration.

“We hope that the open meeting will be the start of an increased engagement with more parents, as historically this has been an area where the opportunities offered by the school have not been as successful as we would wish.”

Directly addressing parents on the facebook page, Mr Frame added: “I know how staff morale has been damaged by some of the more extreme comments made. From reading the various comments we also understand how concerned many of you are.”

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