Schools ‘should not sign up to this foolish ideology’

People in the Berwick area are being offered a chance to have their say on plans to revolutionise education in the town.

Friday, 17th September 2021, 3:56 pm
Updated Friday, 17th September 2021, 3:56 pm
Berwick Academy.

But among those who will be raising concerns in Northumberland County Council’s pre-consultation is Barbara Henderson, who thinks that Berwick Middle School and Tweedmouth Middle School gaining academy status would be the wrong move as it would “eat into their finances and drag down their good reputations”.

The former chairwoman of governors at Tweedmouth Middle also believes that it would lead to the introduction of two-tier education in Berwick.

Last week, The Three Bridges Federation (Berwick Middle School and Tweedmouth Middle School) announced that the two schools had “agreed to investigate joining a multi-academy trust” and “Berwick Academy has also agreed to partner them in this activity”.

A total of £40 million has been allocated in the council's Medium-Term Plan for schools in the Berwick Partnership, and a spokeswoman for the local authority said the “pre-consultation would aid the county council in ensuring public funds are invested in the right educational structure and will provide Berwick with sustainable schools”.

She added: “Before any formal process of consultation begins, school staff, parents, governors and members of the wider community are being asked to share their initial thoughts about what they believe the priorities for a good system of educational provision suitable for this area are to create a system that enables children of all abilities to achieve their best.”

Speaking to the Advertiser, Dr Henderson said: “I was chair of governors at Tweedmouth Middle School when the former high school became an academy, and they urged us to join this untested experiment. I am proud that we rejected it, in the face of enormous pressure.

“Very quickly, as we know, the academy’s Ofsted rating plummeted – first from ‘good’ to ‘satisfactory’ in its very next report, then to ‘requires improvement’ and then to ‘inadequate’, where it remains.

“The Education Policy Institute has warned governments that the performance of multi-academy trusts (MATs) is highly variable and that some of the worst performing schools in the country are run by MATs.

“The best performing academies and MATs are in fact those which were already performing well before academisation, when they were run by local authorities – so in fact, their good performance is usually down to other factors.

“Because of the ruthless legalities surrounding the process, Berwick Academy cannot go back to being run by the local education authority, even though this would clearly be the best step. But to suggest that the currently good middle schools at Berwick and Tweedmouth should join them in this race to the bottom is appalling.

“It will eat into the middle schools’ finances. It will drag down the middle schools’ good reputations and lose the distinctive ethos which each school currently enjoys. It will put staff jobs at risk, due to potential duplication.

“And it is clearly a move towards two-tier education, as the academy grabs the eleven-and-older pupils from the middle schools – an idea that again, parents in Northumberland have repeatedly rejected.

“Let’s not lose further generations of children to this foolish ideology.”

In her statement last week Clare Shaw, The Three Bridges Federation’s chairwoman of governors, said that the federation thinks agreeing to investigate joining a multi-academy trust is a positive move.

She added: “It is believed that this approach will allow all three schools to benefit from cost savings with suppliers, which will allow them to spend more of their funding on the children, allow the schools to deliver a curriculum that meets the particular challenges of the area and provide additional opportunities using some of the technology improvements identified during the recent Covid-19 pandemic.”

The county council has reiterated that every child living in the county should be able to attend a good, local school – something which the local authority is committed to achieving as one of its priorities.

Coun Guy Renner-Thompson, cabinet member with responsibility for children’s services, said: “We as a council are committed to ensuring any plans going forward will provide long-term, fit-for-purpose education systems and buildings.

“The (£40million) funding allocated will go a long way in doing just that, but we need to hear from the residents in the area in order for us to get this right for children and young people for years to come.”

To access the pre-consultation, go to nland.uk/schools-in-the-berwick-area-your-views