School bosses hit back at unions over academy switch

Photo Ian Robinson'Garstang High School headteacher Phil Birch
Photo Ian Robinson'Garstang High School headteacher Phil Birch

Headteacher Phil Birch and governors at Garstang High School have responded to criticisms from teaching unions over their handling of the academy proposals.

The decision on whether governors should pursue conversion to the academy school will be made on June 20, with the official consultation process due to end this week.

Speaking to the Courier, Mr Birch and chairman of the governors Tom Ibison said they felt enough had been done to get across the message of the academy proposals to parents, and the door was still open for discussion.

He said he had held face-to-face meetings with around one per cent of the parent population at school who had contacted him to talk about the proposals.

Mr Birch added the extensive process had involved a range of views, and it was understandable there would be people with differing opinions.

He said: “I think there has been a lot of opportunity to find out about it (academy proposals), but there are always going to be challenges when national organisations are vehemently opposed to them.

“But it has been very humbling for me. There is great responsibility with this process, but the governors and the community are so committed to our school and in what we want to achieve, so I am very grateful to everyone who has got involved.”

Mr Ibison said the consultation had been far more rigorous compared with other schools considering academy status, and the teams involved were happy with what had been done.

He said neither the headteacher nor governors had received any formal invitation to the recent union meeting, and said claims by union officials that academy status would lower standards of education and lead to the risk of unqualified staff in the classroom were “wide of the mark”.

Mr Birch said the aim would continue to be recruiting the best staff for the school and he dismissed any plan to readdress the admissions policy, repeating his pledge it would remain the same.

Defending the school’s reasons for exploring the option, Mr Birch said: “We are a community school and the ambition is to continue developing Garstang High School as a community hub. We have a brilliant relationship with parents, who are very supportive and we only want to enhance that further.

“The drive for us is to give the best opportunities for all the children to achieve their potential and secure them the best possible start in life.

“This is not an upheaval of the school, this is all about an opportunity to help move things forward.”

He added a growing number of schools in Lancaster, Blackpool and Blackburn areas were taking steps towards academy status, and Garstang could not afford to be left behind.

It is understood school management at St Aidan’s CE Technology College, Preesall, is also considering an academy switch.