Schools merger back on agenda

education bosses are once again looking at creating a formal federation of Whitby’s secondary schools – a year after the proposals were thrown out due to opposition.

The Whitby Gazette understands the issue has been raised again at the request of North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) as a result of changes to the Ofsted monitoring system and decreasing numbers of pupils.

While all three headteachers at Whitby Community College, Eskdale and Caedmon School say nothing is in place at the moment the minutes from two Whitby Community College (WCC) governor meetings suggest NYCC officer, John Bell, is set to meet with the headteachers at the other two schools to discuss the issue again.

The Federation proposal was abandoned last year when after a consultation process Eskdale governors voted against the collaboration.

It had been backed by WCC who are still in favour of the move and have had recent discussions with Mr Bell.

A formal federation would see the three schools adopt a shared governing body and strategic leadership team but would still operate separately under their own names and with their own uniforms, headteacher and budget.

It is believed the Federation is being revisited because schools classed as satisfactory under the current Ofsted guidelines may become known as ‘requires improvement’ under proposed new ones and would be seen to be failing and with falling numbers there is also an economic issue.

Therefore, a Federation would lead to structural reform and more sharing of facilities across the three schools.

According to minutes from WCC’s full governing body’s March meeting schools falling into the new Ofsted bracket could be forced to become academies and a federation was a way of avoiding this.

The minutes add: “Governors hoped that John Bell would move forward to allow the Governors of the three Whitby secondary schools to be involved in serious negotiations by the summer term and that no further consultation with the community would be necessary.”

Minutes from a WCC governor’s development committee meeting held in May state that “the Authority was keen to progress towards Federation in both Northallerton and Whitby. The new Ofsted framework and a falling roll was the driving force behind this for the Local Authority.”

They went on to say Mr Bell was in the process of organising a meeting with the heads of Eskdale and Caedmon and the Whitby Gazette understands he was in the town on Wednesday.

Whitby Town Councillors have also called for an extraordinary meeting to be held on this issue after it was raised at its monthly meeting on Tuesday night.

Coun Ian Havelock said: “I was a governor and resigned as a result, since then it has been on the backburner but it is coming forward now with some force. Federation is a cheap solution for a very grave problem.

“I have always been in favour of an 11-16 school and a sixth form but the big fear is, this is going to be pushed through without any further consultation.”

Coun Havelock added it wasn’t a situation that just involved present pupils and parents but future parents and students too.

But the heads of all three schools were keen to play down the latest revelations.

Keith Prytherch said: “I am pleased that we have had consultation with the local authority about how we collaborate with schools in and around the local area in order to keep standards high and to offer the best value in tough economic times. It is important that collaboration is on our agendas and the schools work closely together.

“In terms of any formal proposal for federation that was looked at last year and consulted upon. WCC were in favour of that proposal and would be in the future.”

In a joint statement Tony Hewitt (Caedmon) and Sue Whelan (Eskdale) said: “There are currently no plans for Whitby Schools to federate. These decisions rest with the individual governing bodies of each individual school.”

Mr Bell was unavailable for comment but a spokesperson for NYCC said: “The local authority takes the view that the issue of federation is a decision for the local schools.”