Schools join forces to form academy

THREE Morpeth schools will become an academy from today.

King Edward VI High School, Chantry Middle School and Technology College and Newminster Middle School and Technology College will now have greater independence in setting future curriculums.

The directors of the newly-formed not-for-profit company say that while examination success will remain as important as before, staff will be able to take a more personalised approach with pupils and develop skills that will be useful when they enter the world of work.

It will also allow more collaboration between the three schools, whose names will stay the same.

Closer ties were established between them in 2009 when they formed The Three Rivers Federation and the heads at both schools believe academy status is the natural next step.

Executive Headteacher of Chantry and Newminster Paul Lawrence said: “We’ve been gradually building towards an academy and having the one governing body and a single finance department to manage the budget for each school as part of the federation has helped us to get ready for this change.

“Our focus is to meet the needs of students and this extra freedom will allow us to be more innovative.

“For example, we can offer modern foreign languages subjects from an earlier age so youngsters have a greater choice as they progress from middle school to high school.

“We will also have a bigger focus on personal development skills such as problem-solving, presentations and team-building, which will be of great benefit when they enter employment.”

KEVI Headteacher Simon Taylor said: “We’re very excited about the opportunities that converting to academy status will bring.

“The national curriculum can presume a one-size-fits-all approach and although we won’t completely move away from it, this allows us to tailor what we do to particular groups of children.

“Running the schools in a business-like way enables us to build on the quality provision we already have in a time of public financial tightening.”

There are 12 directors in charge of the company – called The Three Rivers Learning Trust – including a business director, parent representatives and co-opted members as well as the headteachers.

They will have the responsibility for taking the critical decisions on budgets, expenditure, staffing, the curriculum and admissions.

The company has to manage its finances and report performance to the Secretary of State for Education.

Funding will come directly from the Government and as it will take over payroll and pensions transactions, it will seek professional human resources advice from Northumberland County Council or the private sector.

Critics of academies say that making this change means schools are less accountable to parents and communities and they can give them difficult financial burdens.

But one of the directors, Roger Vaughan, said: “Under the old system, we could blame the Government or the local authority for certain problems, but it’s now very clear that the buck stops with us.

“The only drive we all have is to provide the best possible education for our students and being an academy means we’re not tied down to any changes in the national curriculum.”

Among the Q&A documents posted on a special website during the consultation process, the federation said that it does not consider itself to be in a worse position by taking on liability for buildings without money for refurbishment as academies can apply directly to the Department for Education for future funding.

Parents, staff, students, partnership schools, local councillors and trade unions were involved with the consultation process.

A total of 20 comments were submitted. Four were against the proposal and the others were in support or asking for more information.

Mr Taylor said: “We had a really productive meeting with a group of about 50 parents in September where we were able to dispel some of their concerns because they weren’t part of the remit for our academy bid.

“For example, the issue of a sponsor coming in to work with us and influencing our ethos was mentioned but we told them that we were applying to be a converter academy, which does not involve sponsors.”

He added that the change will not affect their relationship with schools in the Morpeth partnership and the rest of the county and KEVI’s admissions arrangements with Dr Thomlinson Middle School in Rothbury will stay the same.