Letter of the week: 'Falling numbers is biggest hindrance to future of South Shields School'

Campaigners against the school's closure.
Campaigners against the school's closure.

It is with a great deal of disappointment that I will formally present to a meeting of South Tyneside Council’s cabinet, the circumstances that have led to South Shields School becoming unviable.

I want to make it clear that seeking the views of pupils is our first and foremost priority.

Whilst it is only natural for others to lend their voice, this must be done in the context of what’s best for pupils – it is their voice, and that of their parents, which must be heard.

In August 2018, the Regional Schools Commissioner (on behalf of the Secretary of State) advised they are no longer seeking a sponsor for the school. South Tyneside Council has been proactively supporting the commissioner to identify potential sponsors.

Sponsors undertook their own detailed assessment of South Shields School, subsequently deciding not to proceed due to viability concerns.

The school has been recognised by Ofsted as making some improvement.

However, at the previous inspection, performance at the school was judged "inadequate".

This improvement is not a significant enough factor to positively impact the overall viability of the school. The key challenge the school faces is one of falling numbers.

There are only 527 pupils choosing to have an education at this school.

Also read: Business as usual at South Shields School

A declining roll will inevitably lead to financial difficulties, which in turn affects the ability to provide a broad curriculum across all subjects.

Projections indicate future numbers will fall further, particularly as the smallest pupil numbers are at the youngest class groups.

The overriding factor in this impossible situation is not standards, it is low and falling pupil numbers and their impact on viability.

Current government education policy which this council has always opposed has directly failed these pupils. The local authority is powerless to step in as it would have a decade ago.

The Secretary of State will revoke the Academy Order, but only on the condition that the council undertakes a consultation on statutory closure.

The Secretary of State does not have the power directly to close a school – only councils have that power for maintained schools – but he can require or direct the council to do so.

Having a Whitehall official in London directing a closure of a local school is not a situation that we would want to see any of our school community placed in.

Therefore, there is only one option presented to cabinet, which is to consult with pupils and parents – whose voices matter most.

Coun Moira Smith,
Lead Member for Children, Young People and Families.

Last week's Letter of the week: "Police have lost the streets"