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Friday, 19 December 2014

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Job fears raised over plans to merge Cumbrian senior schools

Staff at Workington’s two senior schools which are due to merge this September are holding meetings to discuss the future of their jobs.

Stainburn and Southfield schools announced yesterday that they are on track to merge and if plans go ahead, this could be as early as September.

Stainburn head Chris McGrath said it was impossible to say at this stage whether any staff would lose their jobs.

“I can’t give any specifics as we are only at the planning stage” he told the News & Star.

But he did say that staff members would be meeting later this month with representatives of Bright Tribe who they are working with to gain academy status.

Mr McGrath also said that he had not received any feedback from parents or pupils yet as letters were only sent out to those affected last night.

After years of discussing the schools’ switch to an academy and amalgamating, a giant step was taken by the two schools this week after governors decided to pursue academy status and join the two schools together.

And, if academy status is granted by the Department of Education, pupils from either side of town could be mixing together from as early as September.

Both of the schools’ headteachers say that exciting times lie ahead.

Lynda Dalkin, Southfield’s head, said that if the merger went ahead, it would mean years seven, eight and nine from both schools would move to Stainburn while Southfield’s years 10 and 11 would stay put.

However, under the plans, the schools’ joint sixth form centre on Needham Drive, Moorclose, would shut and students would be rehoused at Southfield for two years until a new school was built behind Stainburn.

If successful, steps will begin to merge the two schools, with a 13-week consultation the first stage and amalgamation happening as early as September.

Ms Dalkin stressed that these were only proposals and would be looked at sensitively.

“We take consultation very seriously. If there is public unrest, we will look into it – I promise that.”

The schools want to become a single academy which would be built behind Stainburn School.

Ms Dalkin said: “In the meantime, we have to make do with the three sites that we have until the new school is built.

“We need to do that sensitively and slowly. This is a tremendous opportunity.”

Stainburn headteacher Mr McGrath said he was “excited” about the upcoming merger.

“Work starts now on developing a really exciting provision for Workington. Our work with Bright Tribe can bring about educational transformation for the town and finally deliver on what has been discussed and speculated on for several years. It is a bold and adventurous move but one which is absolutely necessary to secure excellence in our school. We’re very excited by the challenges ahead.”

The two schools are proposing to become part of the Bright Tribe multi-academy trust.

They have also voted in principle to immediately start working more closely together to reduce budget deficits.

A meeting of both schools’ governors was held on Wednesday night, and pupils at Workington Sixth Form Centre told about what was happening yesterday lunchtime. Letters were also sent out to parents.

Ms Dalkin added: “Mr McGrath and I have talked about one school for Workington for some time.

“Now we know what the future is likely to be we can direct our energies into the serious business of developing the very best educational opportunities for our children.”

Southfield and Stainburn have been working on a possible merger for more than four years. They are awaiting the outcome of a bid under the Government’s Priority Schools Building Programme.

It could see Workington granted enough money to build a new school for 1,250 pupils, the capacity that ministers have calculated is needed. A decision is expected by the end of next month.

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