A TRIO of Morpeth schools are already reaping the benefits of becoming an academy one year on.
King Edward VI High School, Chantry Middle School and Technology College and Newminster Middle School and Technology College have greater independence in how they manage their operations, applying for funding and setting future curriculums following the conversion last December.
As well as being able to work closer together and provide staff with new opportunities, The Three Rivers Learning Trust submitted nine applications to a fund available to academy schools and six were successful. This means a total of £1.3million is being spent on new buildings and facilities, maintenance and repairs.
Efforts are continuing to make standards even higher across all areas and the transition process between middle school and high school smoother, and additional language subjects are being introduced at middle school level with England’s new exam system in mind.
At KEVI, work is expected to start soon on the refurbishment of the West Cottingwood building to give the music department a purpose-built new home if it receives planning permission. Among the other improvements is switching the heating provision from coal boilers to a more efficient and cleaner gas system.
Another bid has gone in to strengthen the roofs and extend and refurbish the sixth form centre.
Headteacher Simon Taylor said: “It has been a really positive and successful year in terms of making improvements to our buildings, developing the three schools and setting up effective single departments in areas such as finance, human resources and ICT.
“Having six bids to the building and maintenance fund accepted was an excellent result and the refurbishments and new facilities will make a big difference.
“We are embracing the extra responsibilities and freedoms, which have allowed us to build on our past successes. While not much has changed for staff in their day-to-day teaching, hopefully they and the students will be noticing the improvements we’re making through the extra resources we have managed to obtain.
“Although becoming a converter academy has given us greater autonomy, we continue to maintain a school commitment to Northumberland and our relationships with the local authority and other schools in the county remain very strong.”
The learning trust recruited five local apprentices to its administration team and after they all received qualifications, two of them were given permanent posts. More opportunities like this will become available in the next few years.
At Chantry and Newminster, there are 14 new classrooms between the two schools and work is being carried out to roofs and windows.
To feed into the new English Baccalaureate Certificate, which will replace GCSEs later in the decade, children in Years 7 and 8 will each do a year of Spanish and German so they can make an informed choice of which language block to choose when they get to KEVI.
Executive Headteacher of Chantry and Newminster Paul Lawrence said the schools were able to introduce these lessons because of the extra funding that the academy has sourced.
“Making the change has given us an extra dimension and there is an on-going process to provide joined up services and activities for the benefit of staff and students across the nine-to-19 age range,” he said.
“There has been a smooth transition. Staff entitlements have transferred across and our HR department will continue to look to improve staff benefits and well-being.
“Parents have been supportive and they are appreciating the development of our Virtual Learning Environment, known as Frog, which allows them to see what their children are working on.
“The pupils are doing very well and we’re delighted with the improvements at Chantry which were recognised by Ofsted earlier this year.
“They have also benefited from the introduction of ‘deep learning experience’ sessions.
“This is where students construct their own curriculum to meet certain challenges and it’s totally inspiring to see their creativity flourish, an example being the activities they put together to raise £700 between the two schools.
“We continue to work very closely with the other schools in the Morpeth Partnership and if anything our relationship with them has strengthened. We also have a formal agreement with Dr Thomlinson Middle School (in Rothbury) covering matters where we can work together or help each other out.”
A corporate plan is currently being drawn up to help the trust move forward over the next few years. The six areas it will cover are teaching, learning and assessment, curriculum, enrichment, business, finance and HR, leadership at all levels and outward facing activities.