Embattled headteacher quits school

The shock resignation of Berwick Academy's headteacher could be the '˜vital first step' towards a brighter future for the school.

Friday, 9th March 2018, 6:49 am
Updated Friday, 9th March 2018, 2:38 pm
Berwci Acadamy, headteacher Alexis Widdowson

That is the view of Coun Georgina Hill, who has been leading the call for action at the struggling school for several months.

Headteacher Alexis Widdowson, who resigned with immediate effect last Wednesday, is yet to comment on her departure.

Alexis Widdowson

A report by Ofsted inspectors, who visited in January, is expected to be published any day now.

Chairman of governors David Cairns has called on the community to get behind the school and interim head Steve Wilkes.

“It’s a new start for the school,” he said. “I know there have been calls for governors’ heads and that we have to be accountable but we are volunteers and it’s a hard environment to be in.

“We really want the community to get behind the school and support the staff and Steve Wilkes because their main focus is the young people of Berwick and getting the best education for them.

Alexis Widdowson

“We don’t need any more stones thrown at the school.”

Last week, a statement on behalf of the governors, said: ‘After five years as principal at Berwick Academy, Ms Widdowson has requested to be released from her contract with immediate effect in order to pursue new education projects.

‘In supporting this request, chair of governors David Cairns, stated on behalf of governors their thanks for her hard work and dedication to the school.

‘In the short-term deputy head teacher Steve Wilkes will assume the role of acting head teacher until a suitable replacement can be found.’

Berwick Academy has been in the ‘requires improvement’ category since 2013. Its previous Ofsted inspection in 2016 noted improvements but said there was still widespread underperformance.

In December, calls for intervention were made by worried parents and local councillors at a public meeting.

Representatives of the National Education Union also raised concerns at the time, claiming the academy was in a ‘crisis situation’.

Coun Hill, member for Berwick East on Northumberland County Council, described Ms Widdowson’s position as ‘untenable’ at that meeting.

She said: “There is, of course, no magic wand to instantly transform Berwick Academy but a vital first step has been taken.

“As I have said previously, the failure of leadership also extends to the board of governors and they too need to be held accountable and fall on their swords.

“All the schools in Berwick must come together now in a meaningful way and work proactively towards facilitating the drastic improvements required.

“Above all else, the well-being and educational outcomes of our town’s children and young people has to come first.”

The school has raised concerns about its long-term ability to deliver A-Levels if pupil numbers continue to fall. Governors had asked Ms Widdowson to look at the various options available.

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.