Council keen to step in and help Academy
Northumberland County Council wants to step in and help improve standards at Berwick Academy, following a dramatic intervention by a senior councillor.
Academies are state-funded schools outside the control of the local authority and are the responsibility of a Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC).
However, the county council still has a duty to all of Northumberland’s young people and frustration has been growing at the rate of progress to improve the educational outcomes at Berwick’s secondary school.
The legislation does not allow for academies to be returned to local-authority control, but Northumberland County Council is seeking permission to become a formal partner to work with the governing body and the RSC to ‘develop educational excellence’.
Coun Wayne Daley, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services, has written to the RSC, Janet Renou, ‘to formally request that you use your powers to work with me to develop a plan to significantly improve outcomes at Berwick Academy’.
The letter starts: ‘Following a period of protracted concern about Berwick Academy, I feel compelled to write to you in order that I can express my frustration about the rate of progress and to try to provide a solution.
‘For a number of years, Berwick Academy has not performed at the level expected by parents or the community.’
A formal meeting of Coun Daley and members of the education team with the RSC is set to take place in the next couple of weeks, while representatives of the council will today be talking to School Standards Minister Nick Gibb in London about this matter and giving him a copy of the letter.
“I don’t care about politics, I care about the young people of Berwick,” Coun Daley said. “I want this council to work in partnership with governors and the RSC to improve educational outcomes.”
Berwick Academy has been in special measures, with an inadequate rating from Ofsted, since this time last year.
In 2017 (the latest final figures), just 23 per cent of pupils achieved a grade 5 or above in their English or maths GCSEs, which was the worst figure in Northumberland apart from at Haydon Bridge High School, where the council stepped in to take control last year following the withdrawal of academy sponsor Bright Tribe.
Coun Daley said that the improvements made in just six months at Haydon Bridge has ‘led to an uplift in belief in the community and that’s exactly what we want in Berwick’.
“We’re saying, give us this opportunity to work with you to transform education in Berwick,” he continued. “We’ve had enough, this could be a fresh start for Berwick, let us deliver change.”
The letter does note that some progress has been made, with praise for the trustees and the current and previous headteachers, but Coun Daley said his proposal would put some ‘rocket fuel behind it’ for a school which ‘has the potential to be a provider of great education for the children and young people of Berwick’.
Coun Georgina Hill, the ward councillor for Berwick East, said: “It is clear that since Berwick Academy was put into special measures, the pace and progress of change has not been nearly good enough.
“I am, therefore, really glad of this further evidence that the Northumberland County Council education team is taking this situation seriously and is seeking to play a key role in facilitating the significant improvement required.
“The necessary next step, of course, is to do what it takes to reverse the disastrous decision of academisation and return the school to local-authority control.”
Coun Catherine Seymour, who represents Berwick North, added: “After many bleak years of failing grades at Berwick Academy, something has to be done to rectify this to provide an excellent education that our young people deserve.
“The request for the RSC to work with the governing body of the school and Northumberland County Council as a formal partner to develop a plan in developing educational excellence is a step forward for a positive outcome.”