Fears schools merger would rip heart from Cumbrian community
Published at 07:28, Friday, 15 March 2013
Residents of Workington’s Moorclose estate fear the merger of two town schools will rip the heart out of their community.
A public meeting over the proposed merger of Southfield Technology College and Stainburn School heard there were fears over the future of the estate’s library, community centre, sports hall and shops.
The schools are each pursuing academy status with a view to then becoming a single academy based on the Stainburn site.
But they faced criticism at the first public meeting about proposals that they had not consulted with people directly affected by the move before pressing ahead.
Under the merger plans, the schools intend to move students from Workington Sixth Form Centre to the Southfield site in September.
New year seven pupils would all go to the Stainburn site in the new school year, with other year groups transferred over time.
But fears have been raised about the future of other facilities which use the Moorclose Campus if the sixth form centre closes.
Gerald Humes, county councillor and a member of the Moorclose Community Centre committee, said about 1,370 people used the campus each week on top of more than 200 sixth formers.
Six hundred of those, including primary school groups, use Moorclose Library.
The sports hall attracts 350 people, with 16 teams playing there weekly, half-tem football clubs, the Cumberland FA’s futsal festival and summer enrichment activities.
The adult education centre and community centre bring in 200 people each per week, while the theatre hosts everything from school productions to lectures and art exhibitions.
Meanwhile, Coun Humes added, the nearby Moorclose shops could suffer from the loss of school-related trade.
He said: “I know the school’s important but so is Moorclose and south Workington. You have given that no thought.
“I wish you would sit down with the people on the site and speak to them before it’s too late.”
Lorraine Harper, assistant in charge at the library, said: “Quite a lot of people have been coming in and asking when we are closing.”
Alayne Cowling, area library manager, asked what the future held for the rest of the Moorclose Campus.
But the headteachers and representatives of the Bright Tribe, the education trust working with them, said last night that was not a matter they could control.
Lynda Dalkin, headteacher at Southfield, said: “If we were not using the site my understanding is it would return to the local authority."
Denis Robertson, Allerdale councillor for Moorclose, said: “The sixth form makes the community up here. Why don’t they build the academy up here? There’s plenty of room.”
But the headteachers and Bright Tribe said the Stainburn site, which is subject to a covenant requiring it to be used for education, was deemed the best and most central location.
There has been talk about the schools merging for more than 10 years because falling pupil numbers have made them unsustainable.
The meeting heard that between them the schools faced a funding deficit of more than £1.1 million by 2015.
Prof David Hopkins, director of education at Bright Trust, said that under the merger plans, they could break even within a year.
The schools, through Cumbria County Council, have been earmarked funding towards building work on a combined school under the Government’s Priority Schools Building Programme.
But they have been assured by the Government that that funding would still be available if they left council control.
There has been criticism that Bright Tribe has no track record of running academies.
But Prof Hopkins said he had worked for several years with the schools through the Adventure Learning system.
Since being given Government authorisation to help manage academies in October, Bright Tribe has started work with more than 20 schools looking to become independent of local authorities, he added.
Prof Hopkins said that academy status for the schools would benefit the community by allowing them to diversify from the national curriculum, providing a broader range of teaching.
Chris McGrath, headteacher of Stainburn, said he had been sceptical of the academy route but felt Bright Tribe’s position as an emerging trust with an ethos similar to those of the schools gave them a chance to shape the trust’s vision, benefiting Workington.
He added: “I believe the governing bodies and headteachers of both schools are providing leadership.
“This [single school] agenda has been talked about in Workington for many years. We have grasped the nettle and we are doing something about it for your kids and your grandkids.”
Mike Cunningham, of Cumbria Primary Heads Association, asked what would happen to the surplus staff when the schools merged and whether retained staff would suffer contract changes.
Val Ockwell, of Bright Tribe, said the trust was committed to retaining staff on their existing terms and conditions and Mr McGrath confirmed that the schools were working with teaching unions.
He added: “I don’t know if I’ll have a job in this new school and I may well not. I believe that this is the right thing for Workington. If it costs me my job so be it.”
The schools promised to listen to the community and continue consulting as the plans progressed.
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
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Learners with special needs are funded in the same way whether or not a school has academy status. Additionally, academies are bound by the same statutory frameworks and codes of practice as LA maintained schools in relation to learners with additional support needs.
my daughter has special needs and has 1 to 1 at primary school ive been told that if the merge goes ahead i am gonna have to fight to get her help as the goverment cant fund it with it being an academy im dead against the merge
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