D-day arrives for closure-threatened South Shields School

Pupils, parents and staff are today due to find out whether South Shields School will be forced to close.

The struggling school, in Nevinson Avenue, South Shields, has been facing an uncertain future since it was rated ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted and failed in its bid to become an academy.

South Shields School

South Shields School

On Wednesday afternoon, decision makers at South Tyneside Council’s cabinet are expected to pull the plug on funding from August 2020.

According to a report prepared for councillors: “The school has undertaken a programme of reviews to prevent a deficit budget up until this point and, with some support from the local authority, has managed financial challenges within its budget.

“However, there is a point at which maintaining a balanced budget cannot be sustained and it is predicted that further falling numbers at the school will impact significantly upon the school budget in the future.”

An ‘Inadequate’ inspection by inspectors from schools watchdog Ofsted in 2017 forced South Shields School to start the process of conversion to academy status.

But a combination of low pupil numbers and a multi-million pound debt meant it was unable to find a sponsor to do this.

The school was re-built in 2011 under the terms of a £24m Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal - which commits it to repayments worth £400,000 a year until 2036.

Funding tied to pupil numbers has made finances a struggle.

In November the school had about 550 pupils out of a total capacity of 850, with classroom numbers continuing to shrink as parents moved their children to other schools due to uncertainty over the future.

The council has previously been criticised for putting cash ahead of children but the report insists alternative options to closing the school would not ‘resolve the underlying viability issues’.

The report added: “Although it has been stated throughout that the proposal to close South Shields School is not purely related to standards, the viability issues brought about by low numbers will seriously affect the school’s ability to maintain a broad and balanced curriculum.

“Ultimately this will negatively impact upon standards and pupil outcomes.”

Closure of South Shields School would leave South Tyneside with eight secondary schools, four of which have sixth forms.

If councillors accept the recommendation the school will formally close on August 31, 2020.

*All current pupils would complete the current academic year (2018/19)

*No year seven 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 eight and nine

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service