Future of South Shields school’s academy bid hangs in the balance

St Wilfrid's RC College headteacher Brendan Tapping.
St Wilfrid's RC College headteacher Brendan Tapping.

The future of a bid by a South Tyneside school to become an academy is uncertain – days after a consultation process ended.

St Wilfrid’s RC College, off Temple Park Road, South Shields, could become the borough’s third secondary school to take the academy route, following Whitburn and St Joseph’s in Hebburn.

The response from the wider community has sent a strong message to the governors that we want to protect and support this school as a local community school.

Shirley Ford, anti-academy campaigner

Headteacher Brendan Tapping says the move would give the school the opportunity to maintain and repair buildings at the site.

But the bid has sparked opposition in the form of an online petition, signed by 117 people so far, in addition to dissenting trade union and political voices.

The four-week consultation process over the proposal ended on Friday and on Tuesday evening governors met to discuss the academy bid.

Among the speakers to attend was Dr Jill McManus, divisional secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in South Tyneside, who believes becoming an academy is no guarantee a school will prosper.

But Dr McManus left the meeting after her presentation and no-one from the school has been able to confirm whether any formal decision was made thereafter.

She said: “I don’t know what transpired after I left and whether they are going ahead down the academy route. I certainly hope not when the staff are so confused and not well-informed at what it will mean.”

Shirley Ford, who fought a successful campaign to stop Harton Technology College becoming an academy, certainly hopes St Wilfrid’s will also not take a bid forward.

She said: “It has all gone very quiet. I just hope that it means the governors have taken on board the concerns and objections from the wider community.

“We started the petition as part of our campaign to persuade the governors of the school not to agree to it becoming an academy. The response from the wider community has sent a strong message to the governors that we want to protect and support this school as a local community school.

“We have won the campaign to stop several other schools in the borough becoming academies by informing parents and the wider community, and by lobbying the governors. So we can win this campaign too.”

Another dissenting voice is Coun Joan Atkinson, lead member for children, young people and families on 
South Tyneside Council, who has urged Mr Tapping to think very carefully 
and explore other options before committing to the academy route.

A school spokeswoman said no one was available to comment on the outcome of the meeting. Also unavailable was Patrick Melia, the chairman of governors at the school.

St Wilfrid’s has proved one of South Tyneside’s most successful schools in recent years.

With 825 pupils aged between 11 and 19, at its last Ofsted inspection in February 2014 it was judged outstanding in all categories.

The report said: “There is a relentless focus on raising achievement for all students in the school and this is proving very successful.”

And last year, 66 per cent of students achieved five or more A*-C GCSEs including maths and English.

Headteacher Brendan Tapping is advocating the academy move because he believes it would give the school the opportunity to maintain and repair buildings at the site.

He said: “As an already highly successful school, we wish to continually invest

in our pupils, and their future.

“We want to provide a vibrant and exciting learning environment for our students to thrive. Gaining academy status will allow us to maintain and repair our school building to high standards to complement our excellent teaching.

“We have worked hard with support from parents and carers, the Diocese and South Tyneside Council to achieve an outstanding Ofsted status and want to make sure that we can build on that success for future generations.

“We already have a strong and positive relationship with South Tyneside Council and we will continue to

work closely with our local authority if we become an academy.”