Academy sixth form under threat

Berwick Academy has raised concerns about its long-term ability to deliver A-Levels if pupil numbers continue to fall.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 08:57
Berwick Academy

Governors have called for swift action to ensure this does not happen and asked headteacher Alexis Widdowson to look at the various options available to the school.

David Cairns, chairman of governors, said: “I would make it clear that the Academy’s finances have been prudently managed and that the provision of secondary education within Berwick is secure in the short term.

“However, the school, in its current form, is unlikely to balance its budget going forward and swift action is needed to ensure we can continue to offer A-Level provision in Berwick.

“In response, we have asked the headteacher to summarise the potential options available to the school and we will be taking a decision about how to proceed, based on these options.”

Fears for the financial viability of the school were one of the main reasons for the Morpeth-based Three Rivers Trust pulling out of a proposed Multi-Academy Trust (MAT).

The news, announced this week, is a blow to the school’s hopes it would prove both financially beneficial and improve academic performance.

“We were fully aware that a major theme in our discussion with Three Rivers would be the long-term financial viability of Berwick Academy in its current form and we hoped that the MAT would generate economies of scale to combat the very real financial challenges faced by all schools in the current climate,” said Mr Cairns.

“Having reviewed the five-year financial projections of the Academy, Three Rivers reluctantly concluded that they were unable to accept Berwick Academy in to the Three Rivers Trust until these financial uncertainties had been addressed.”

Three Rivers cited concern about falling student numbers across the partnership and a drop in the number of students in sixth form following the expansion of Northumberland College’s provision of vocational courses in Berwick and the difficulty of providing an effective sixth form curriculum with such small numbers.

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The letter from the Three Rivers Learning Trust continued: ‘We believe that structural change within the partnership is necessary to provide financial stability, to support improvements in governance, leadership and teaching and to enable the Academy to be responsible for the whole of secondary provision and outcomes for young people.

‘Improved school performance and improved outcomes for students at Berwick Academy are certainly achievable, and directors, school leaders and staff are working incredibly hard to realise this. We believe success requires a wider shared vision and plan for education in Berwick which is actively supported by the whole of the Berwick partnership and the wider community.’

Mr Cairns said: “The governors of Berwick Academy were obviously disappointed with the decision by Three Rivers not to proceed with the potential joint venture at this moment.

“Due diligence is a 2-way process and it allowed us as a board to reflect on the position of Berwick Academy and take on board some of their comments and suggestions raised in the process.

“This includes addressing the school budget pressures, which are not unique to Berwick Academy and continuing to improve the education provision for young people in the Berwick area.

“Education is a 4-18 system and we now need to bring all stakeholders together in the partnership to determine what is the most viable solution to give our students in Berwick the outcomes they deserve.

“Governors will be meeting again in the new Year to decide on next steps and will be meeting with county and town councillors, LEA representatives and the Regional Schools Commissioner to gain feedback and support from them.

“Berwick Academy staff all work very hard, in sometimes challenging circumstances, for our students and willingly, go the extra mile. We thank them all for their dedication.

“We are always looking to strengthen the governing body, so I would encourage anyone who has an interest in helping to shape education in Berwick to please come forward.”