Cabinet approves closure of South Shields School
The verdict came today after South Tyneside Council’s ruling cabinet met to make a final decision on the future of the school, in Nevinson Avenue, South Shields. and it will close in August 2020.
The school had been facing uncertainty after its failure to convert to an academy last year - a move prompted by an “Inadequate” Ofsted report.
Reports prepared for councillors blamed ‘underlying viability issues’ - such as falling pupil numbers and debt - for withdrawing funding at the end of the next academic year.
Coun Moira Smith, cabinet member for children, young people and families told the meeting: “We don’t underestimate how difficult the process has been for the children and their families and the staff at the school.
“The decision is the final stage of the process. If we go ahead, the decision is final and there is no further step.
“It is vitally important we ensure the implementation goes smoothly and every step is in the best interests of the children attending the school.”
In a statement, headteacher Allie Denholm thanked campaigners who fought to keep the school open.
She said: “Forced academisation was a result of the Ofsted report received in October 2017 when the school was undergoing a period of rapid transition and leadership improvements were noted by inspectors.
“Since then we have seen the school go from strength to strength, with our successful monitoring report in May 2018 and our much improved GCSE results last summer.
“It is extremely sad for both our students and staff that, due to current legislation, this is not enough to maintain our school into the future.”
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, said: “This is an awful day indeed for the children, staff and parents who have worked so hard to save the school.
“I have yet to be provided with sufficient evidence to state unequivocally that it was not possible for the decision-makers to allocate a longer period of time for a potential sponsor to be found, given the brilliant achievements of the students and staff in the past year and the passion of the school leadership to make the school the best it can be.
“Most worryingly, there has been an adversarial air to the dialogue between many concerned parents and the council.
“These parents only want what is best for their children and they have every right to ask questions and to hold the decision-makers and their advisors to account.
“Now that the Council has decided to close this school, we will all be watching to see what the future plans for the site actually are.
“I will continue to support the parents and students being displaced by this closure in any ways I can.”
South Shields School was rated ‘Inadequate’ by schools watchdog Ofsted in 2017 and - because the council cannot legally support a school with that status - attempts were made to convert it to an academy.
A series of issues - including falling pupil numbers and debts attached to the school following a £24m Private Finance Initiative deal - meant it was unable to find a sponsor to make this happen.
In October, South Tyneside Council wrote to Ofsted requesting a new inspection in an attempt to overturn a previous order for the school to become an academy.
But Ofsted’s regional bosses replied they would not alter their current schedule, which has South Shields School slated for it next assessment later this year.
Ex-pupil James Harkus, 18, was prominent in the campaign and was in a packed public gallery to witness the decision.
He said: “It’s a disgrace, These councillors couldn’t even be bothered to talk to us.
“When we’ve asked for help they’ve forwarded our questions to the local Department for Education and said they cannot say anything.”
Following the decision, the school will formally close on August 31, 2020.
All current pupils will complete the current academic year (2018/19).
No Year 7 pupils will join in September 2019, while pupils due to enter Year 10 will be moved to minimise disruption to their GCSE.
Pupils due to enter Year 11 will be allowed to complete the 2019/20 academic year, as will children in Years 8 and 9.
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service