Story: Fran Belbin | Photos: Lisa Swift
Fir Vale School governors voted on Wednesday 15th June to apply for academy status for the school, despite the concerns of parents and Labour councillors, some of whom lobbied the meeting.
Chair of the Governors, Tina Ball, said the school was seeking Academy status for three reasons:
“We will have more resources and more flexibility to make sure all the teaching and learning in the school remains excellent.
“We will be able to protect jobs in school and offer more learning and development opportunities.
“Local people will be able to make the decisions that are best for the school.”
The Governors say they are proud of the School's achievements in the last 12 years including the record GCSE results and the ‘outstanding’ OFSTED report. The school will still be called “Fir Vale School."
But parents of current and prospective pupils disputed the school’s claim that research and consultation with “stakeholders” had been going on for nine months, saying they had only recently been informed of the plans. Only some parents have been formally consulted.
Gaby Spinks, parent currently choosing a secondary school said:
“If they are not listening to me as a parent now, why should they listen to me with an issue if I sent my child there?”
One Fir Vale pupil described the school's approach:
“In assembly we were told about all the advantages, how we will attract new teachers and get an iPad in every classroom, but we haven't been told anything about the risks – it's very biased.”
A parent of a Fir Vale pupil, expressed further concerns:
“The school already provides an outstanding education for our children. Why do we need to change to an academy when things are working well as they are? I worry that teachers may leave during this process.”
Local councillors had written formally to the school to express concerns about the lack of consultation, saying, “the wider community has been excluded from having a meaningful input into the future of their school and the facilities.”
Tina Ball responded to concerns, saying,
“The school recognises that some people in the community, including parents and future parents, still have questions and concerns about what academy status might mean. The Fir Vale Governors plan to meet with people and listen to their views about what Fir Vale School might be like with academy status and create the kind of academy school that is right for Fir Vale.”
The application process will now take several months before the school formally become an academy.
The North East Community Assembly held a public meeting to debate the issues around academies.