High School in academy move

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GOVERNORS at Garstang High School are consulting over converting to an academy.

The switch could see the school opt out of local authority control and would give governors and the headteacher greater power to manage their own budget, buy in services, set the curriculum and even vary the length of the school day.

Letters have been sent out to parents outlining the process and staff and pupils have been briefed.

Headteacher Phil Birch says that no decision on whether to go ahead with the move will be made until the end of the consultation process, which is expected to be complete by early June.

And chair of governors Tom Ibison says they want the wider Garstang community to also have their say, as the decision could affect not just the current but also future generations of pupils and parents.

After being rated as a “good school with outstanding features” in their most recent Ofsted inspection, Garstang High was invited by Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove to consider applying for academy status.

And Mr Birch revealed that a tough new funding formula, which he says has left Garstang High facing some stark financial difficulties, had been the ‘catalyst’ for the decision to look into academy status.

“We can’t run on thin air” said Mr Birch. “Historically, this school has suffered through a lack of funds, but the new funding formula disadvantages us even more.”

Mr Birch says the new arrangements from the Local Education Authority would leave Garstang £1,000 per pupil worse off than the average school, and he warned that teaching jobs and the “future success of the school” could be put at risk.

Mr Ibison described the ability to manage their own budget as ‘getting back what is ours’ and said the extra money - which is currently held by the LEA for central services shared by all schools - would allow the school to develop and improve.

He added that the governors are charged with running the school as effectively as possible and they were ‘duty bound’ to consider the academy option in the best interests of the pupils, staff and the entire Garstang community.

But he stressed that no commitment had been made and nothing was binding at this time.

Mr Birch added that both he and the governors had many more questions to be answered about the academy move before they would be completely happy with the idea, although he believed the new status would provide “new opportunities that would benefit the school.’’

He pointed out that other secondary schools in the area were also looking at academy status and it could mean Garstang tapping into a new local ‘academy network’ of outstanding schools, sharing expertise and ideas.

Mr Birch also said the freedom to look at the curriculum would allow them to tailor the timetable and subjects to better reflect the needs of the students and the local job market.

He said that the move to academy status would not mean a complete break with the LEA, as the school may continue to buy-in certain services while the LEA would still look after key statutory services including special needs statementing and child protection.

Mr Ibison pledged the school would not start selecting pupils according to aptitude, saying it was their intention to maintain it as a ‘community school for all’ in Garstang, and said that all the existing terms and conditions of staff would be maintained.

The academy schools programme has proved controversial, with critics of the policy - including the main teaching unions - warning that weakening the role of local authorities will mean that some children, especially the most disadvantaged, could lose out. Local education authorities would also be left without the capacity to intervene if problems appear in local school provision, while opponents claim the academies will create a ‘two-tier’ education system.

Mr Birch said he recognised the issues, saying: “I am concerned because my staff are concerned about the possible changes, which is understandable when you are possibly changing employer, but I think the only change they would really notice would be fewer cuts.’’

Anyone who would like to contact the headteacher or governors to express their views on the academy conversion can do so via the links on the school website at www.garstanghigh.com, or by writing to them at: Garstang High School, Bowgreave, Garstang, PR3 1YE.

Academy Factfile