Call for intervention at Berwick Academy

Calls have been made for major changes at Berwick Academy to address perceived failings.

Friday, 22nd December 2017, 06:55 am
Berwick Academy

Many parents and local councillors who attended a public meeting at the Swan Centre believe change is needed at the top to turn around the school’s fortunes.

Coun Georgina Hill, who organised the meeting, said the position of head teacher Alexis Widdowson was ‘untenable’.

“There is clearly a failure of leadership and there needs to be a change,” said Coun Hill.

Poor exam results, low staff morale, lack of pastoral care, safeguarding issues and allegations of bullying by the head teacher were among the chief concerns raised.

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“There is a climate of fear in the school where teachers and staff are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs,” said Coun Hill.

Dozens of pupils from the Berwick catchment area now attend schools in Eyemouth, Duns and Alnwick.

Paula Thomas, a parent, said: “I am livid that I’ve had to take my child out of the school and she has to go to Alnwick. The school is failing a generation.”

Resident Michael Stewart raised concerns about the lack of any significant improvement in the six years since academisation.

“Further frustration is caused by the lack of public engagement from the head and the board of governors,” he said. “There appears to be a climate of silence and secrecy around the upper echelons of the Academy.”

Letters seeking intervention have been sent to the Department for Education and the Regional Schools Commissioner, who has responsibility for academies.

However, the meeting was told that there had been no response yet so it was agreed to ask Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan to step in.

Russell Greig, regional official at the National Education Union, said: “I feel Berwick Academy is in a bit of a crisis situation. I have supported members at Berwick Academy and have seen some of the problems staff face there. Our members are working under difficult conditions but are trying their best to do a very good job.”

John Sanderson, NUT divisional secretary, added: “When academies go bad it’s a big issue because, as a community, who do you go to? The local authority can’t do anything about it.

“There aren’t any teachers at that school who want to do a bad job. There are teachers being badly managed and that’s a key difference. The teachers feel under siege from management and morale is at rock bottom.”

Berwick Academy was not represented at the meeting but the concerns raised were put to the school. In response, chairman of governors, David Cairns, admits there are issues to address but urged the community to get behind the school.

After news that the Three Rivers Trust has opted against a proposed Multi-Academy Trust, he added: “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.

“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.”

Sixth form students have also defended the school (see letter, Page 22)