Northumberland's pitch to take schools back from academy control

Education Minister Damian Hinds and Coun Wayne Daley at the new Darras Hall Primary School with headteacher Victoria Parr and head students Laurence Hattaway, Adam Secker and Charlotte Courtney.
Education Minister Damian Hinds and Coun Wayne Daley at the new Darras Hall Primary School with headteacher Victoria Parr and head students Laurence Hattaway, Adam Secker and Charlotte Courtney.

Northumberland County Council is willing to take schools back from academy control in a bid to drive up educational standards.

And this was pitched to Education Secretary Damian Hinds during his recent visit to the county as he announced a new £24million funding programme for the region, Opportunity North East.

The wide gap between the percentage of pupils at a good or outstanding secondary school nationally and in Northumberland was highlighted as part of a report on this year’s educational outcomes at last Thursday’s (November 8) meeting of the council’s family and children’s services committee.

One of the teaching union representatives asked what the council could do in the case of a number of the schools rated inadequate or requires improvement by Ofsted, which are academies and therefore the responsibility of the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC).

The authority’s director of education, Dean Jackson, said: “We are forever pushing them.

“We pitched to the Secretary of State to have some of the schools back. We know our schools best rather than shipping in some MAT (multi-academy trust) from somewhere else in the country.”

Mentioning ongoing work with the likes of Berwick Academy and Haydon Bridge, he added: “With a hand tied behind our back, we are still doing everything we can. I let them know that I’m still responsible for the education of those children.”

Earlier this year, the council agreed a £1.5million rescue package and to step in to save Haydon Bridge High School, which is in special measures, following the withdrawal of Bright Tribe Trust as academy sponsor.

Coun Wayne Daley, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We have a capacity and a will to work with failing schools, be they academies or maintained schools.

“We have not just a statutory duty, but a moral duty. It’s not acceptable that a child in Ashington is not going to get the same outcomes as a child in Hexham.”

Mr Jackson’s report also provided a run-through of this year’s educational outcomes in the county from early years all the way through to A-Levels and beyond, saying that it has been one of the best years in recent memory.

He mentioned the process which was launched after the raft of inspections and subsequent Ofsted criticism in 2013, adding: “We are starting to see the seeds of that starting to grow.”

However, there remain areas of concern and that require work: “We are doing well, but need to take that next step.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service