Half in survey back school academy switch

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A SURVEY conducted by The Courier reveals nearly half the people who responded believe Garstang High School SHOULD convert to an academy.

Of more than 100 people who took part in the survey both on-line and in paper 47% said they thought the school should make the switch, although 20% of respondents were still undecided.

And in another telling response, more than half of people in the survey thought the school’s management hadn’t handled the consultation process well.

That echoed the mood of a public meeting held last week where parents voiced ‘deep rooted’ concerns over the issue, expressing ‘disappointment and frustration’ at the way the consultation process had been conducted.

Some parents at the meeting - called by teaching staff and teaching unions - even claimed letters and emails they’d sent to headteacher Phil Birch expressing their worries had been ‘ignored’ and that not enough had been done by the school to keep parents informed about the decision and its consequences.

One parent said: “I just feel we have not been consulted to a level expected for this huge decision being made which will affect our children’s future.’’

In The Courier survey 58% of people admitted to being ‘worried’ about the future of the school, while 43% thought it would be less accountable than under local authority control.

A clear majority (73%) claim to understand what is meant by converting to an academy and 59% said they didn’t support teachers in their recent strike action in protest at the proposals.

The results come a week after the public meeting held at the Crofters Hotel, when teachers told the 80 people attending that they were ‘scared’ about the future of their jobs and urged parents to “clog up” Mr Birch’s phone lines in staging a “last-ditch fight” to get the proposals ditched.

Jerry Fielden, who has taught at the school for 27 years, described staff morale at the 50-year-old community school as being at its ‘lowest ebb’ and said teachers felt they were being “ignored” by the consultation process, which is due to end on June 10.

He said a number of teachers are already looking for alternative posts and claimed trust between the staff, headteacher and governors had been “destroyed”.

He added: “Staff at the school are bitterly disappointed at what is being imposed on them and they are scared to voice their opinions.”

Union officials claim the academy move would lead to a lower quality of education with the risk of unqualified staff in the classroom.

Parents in the audience expressed surprise that there was no representation from the school’s management and governors at the meeting and said they were frustrated the two-sides of the debate had not been properly presented at the meeting.

NUT Lancashire secretary Ken Cridland urged parents and members of the public to “demand” to be a part of the consultation process.

John Girdley, from the NASUWT, said: “The staff don’t seem to be listened to. The future of Garstang High is now in the parents’ hands.”

Teachers and union representatives have raised concerns that the move to an academy could allow the school to make changes to pay and conditions for staff. Mr Birch has repeatedly pledged to retain all existing terms and conditions.

The Courier invited Mr Birch to respond to some of the concerns raised at the meeting before the half-term break but by our deadline on Tuesday he had not replied to our questions.