Community is being failed

I am writing this response to the articles '˜Progress is too slow, say Ofsted inspectors' (Berwick Advertiser, September 27) and '˜Education chief pledges support for Berwick Schools partnership' (September 20) with a strong sense of despair, disbelief and sadness.

Monday, 15th October 2018, 9:00 am

Young people, their families and the wider community of Berwick-upon-Tweed continue to be let down and failed by an inadequate secondary education opportunity while being assured about the processes that are taking place.

The Ofsted monitoring report reiterates the issues that have so badly damaged the school in recent years, culminating in the inadequate rating for overall effectiveness.

They are not new issues and can be found in the pages of the previous six inspection and monitoring reports published on the official Ofsted inspection website for Berwick Academy since November 2013.

These issues, combined with, I believe, a lack of transparency about the circumstances by which the school was driven into ‘special measures’, have directly impacted on the education opportunities of so many of our young people and must not be allowed to continue unchallenged.

We are told ‘school days are the best of our lives’. Unfortunately not, if you live in Berwick. We have one state-funded secondary school serving this community that has been driven into ‘special measures’.

Teaching and learning remains an urgent priority for the school. Surely the principal reason we send our children to school is to learn.

Like most people, I hoped and believed that when all else failed the powers that be – the local authority, Ofsted, the Department for Education (DfE) and its agent for academies the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC), and our MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan – would intervene and ensure rapid progress followed as a matter of urgency.

But yet again, it seems the community is being failed.

This situation is, without doubt, very serious. The issues that have so damaged Berwick Academy are clearly identified in the inspection and monitoring reports.

Astoundingly, the local authority previously acknowledged that it had raised concerns to Ofsted, the DfE and the RSC on a number of occasions and would have intervened had the school been under local authority control.

The MP, a former governor at the school, took the former headteacher to the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee as an expert witness, considering Pupil Premium funding and creating headteacher ‘toolkits’.

These were aimed at improving the effectiveness and performance of targeted pupil funding allocations to secondary schools to reduce gaps in the attainment of the most disadvantaged pupils. Interestingly, this remains a significant area of concern at Berwick Academy.

The school has also received numerous concerns and complaints from pupils, parents and staff, and yet it continues to operate without achieving the urgent priorities identified by Ofsted or delivering the aims of its Mission Statement.

Intervention has eventually been achieved following a huge amount of pressure and at significant personal cost to a few, but to what end?

Is the process that is currently taking place going to achieve what is required first and foremost in a reasonable timescale, and perhaps most importantly, with the absolute urgency necessary to ensure current and future generations of young people have access to the educational experiences and opportunities they deserve?

Where is the transparency in this process? If all the additional support being provided is so well targeted, why are the urgent priorities identified in the inspection and monitoring reports not being delivered with sufficient impact?

It is imperative that this community now demands transparency and urgent involvement in the process of rethinking the education opportunity available for the young people of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Berwick Community High School was opened in the mid 1970s and the current buildings that form the school certainly reflect that. It morphed into Berwick Academy as part of a political process that promoted self-determination for schools, subject to local community engagement and the provision of education and curriculum opportunities that are fit for purpose.

It has failed and those involved need to be held to account.

Berwick-upon-Tweed is an isolated, rural community that suffers significant disadvantage and inequality of access to services and employment. It is essential that the community has an education provider that we can trust to meet the needs and aspirations of our young people.

Just like the proposed hospital and leisure centre, the needs of local people must not become secondary to supporting the decisions and aspirations of a powerful few.

Ged Thomas