School dodges closure by converting to academy

A middle school has dodged closure after gaining an academy conversion order from its regional schools commissioner (RSC) – while another school is facing problems after intervention from its RSC.

Ponteland middle school in Northumberland was earmarked for closure under council proposals to move from a three to a two-tier system.

The teaching school, also rated as Ofsted outstanding, has secured its future by gaining approval to become an academy from Janet Renou, RSC for the north of England, although it could now be forced to expand its intake to become a primary or secondary school.

Elsewhere, intervention from a RSC has not gone as smoothly.

Last year Tudor Grange Academy Redditch (TGAR), in Worcestershire, was given approval by Pank Patel, RSC for the West Midlands, to convert from an upper high school to taking in year 7 and 8 pupils. That decision was made despite concerns it would “decimate” the town’s three-tier education system.

But the Redditch Standard newspaper revealed last month that TGAR had attracted just 19 pupils into year 7 this September – despite having 180 places available. The school also had 280 places available for year 9 starters, but will have an intake of 58.

This is despite an overall shortage of places in Worcestershire, with four out of five secondary schools said to be over-subscribed for the coming year.

Robert Hill, an education consultant and former government policy adviser, said the RSC decisions hampered the ability of local authorities to plan and provide a good education for all children.

He said councils faced a growing challenge to plan and provide sufficient places as academies could not be made to accept extra forms of entry.

Northumberland county council said the academy order for Ponteland middle school would not affect its consultation to move to a two-tier schooling system.

However, Caroline Pryer, Ponteland’s headteacher, said she was hopeful the council would listen to the community and keep the three-tier system.

She said governors had opened up talks with other schools in the region about forming a multi-academy trust.

In Worcestershire, Rose Rees, TGAR’s head, said “strong financial plans” were in place to manage the impact of low admissions and that the school would “continue on this course”.

She told the Redditch Standard: “The figures were down towards the bottom end of planning and scenario thinking. We had hoped
there would be enough confidence for people to move forward with us.”

In a letter to parents, Rees said the school could handle the low numbers – and the resulting lower funding – because it was part of a multi-academy trust.

“We recognise that change takes time and can be difficult. Tudor Grange Redditch is a good school with sound GCSE outcomes. A growing number of parents are recognising this . . . we know that improving results and our provision again this year will secure their confidence.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “All schools deserve the opportunity to enjoy the freedoms academy status brings.”

She added the Ponteland academy order would help ensure “every child in the area has access to the excellent education they deserve”.

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  1. Sarah

    Perhaps a supporter of government education policy can explain how this nonsense is in the best interests of young people and their families. It is difficult enough for parents facing changes to their children’s schooling without having two government bodies pulling in opposite directions, undermining each other and creating chaos and confusion where there need to be strategic joined up decision making. Without the powers to reshape educational provision across an area to respond to changing demographic need local authorities have no realistic ability to meet their statutory duty to ensure sufficient school places. The government must urgently define local authority duties and powers to avoid this sort of clash of bureaucracies particularly now that full academisation is on a much less definite timescale. At the very least there must be protocols for how local authorities and regional schools commissioners must work together in chilfdren’s best interests to avoid these regrettable and embarrassing power struggles which bring government into disrepute.