Parents accuse teaching bosses of ‘underhand tactics’ in handling of school merger plans

Teaching bosses have been accused of “underhand tactics” in their handling of draft proposals for a school merger.

Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 10:20 am
Updated Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 12:01 pm
Parents Samantha Tench, Victoria Bester and grandparent Eleanor Dunlop with current and future pupils Joseph, Finlay and Betsy Tench, Harry Howitt, Jake Gomm, Thomas Howitt, Olivia Dunlop and Halle Gomm.

Earlier this year, plans were unveiled to see Seaton Sluice Middle School (SSMS) and Whytrig Middle School joined together.

But a public consultation has revealed opposition from parents to the move and prompted claims the Seaton Valley Federation, which runs the schools, has been downplaying the potential negatives of the scheme to pupils.

“[Our child] and other parents have said the same, that there was a presentation and it was all about the good stuff,” said one parent at SSMA who opposes the merger, but who asked not to be named.

“I’m concerned it’s an underhand tactic being used by the school to influence the consultation process, based on information shared with pupils, but which parents haven’t had the opportunity to see.

“I don’t feel it appropriate for any member of staff [at the federation] to lead a discussion on a consultation they have presented.

“If they were going to do that, it should have been by an impartial person who could give a balanced view.”

Education chiefs at Northumberland County Council (NCC) have previously claimed a merger would benefit children, and allow Seaton Sluice pupils to access a “modern educational environment” and smooth the move from middle to high school – as well as provide a “number of significant educational and financial benefits”.

Opponents however have cited concerns including increased traffic as more children are sent to a single site.

And they have also claimed a lack of certainty on where a new combined school would be located makes it “impossible” to consider the full implications.

John Barnes, executive head teacher at the Seaton Valley Federation, insisted pupils had been told about the “positives and negatives” of the proposals, before being invited to complete a survey on the scheme.

He added: “Gauging the views of the young people during this consultation process is extremely important.

“The Head of School and wider school staff’s role is simply to support the students in accessing that information and the opportunity to respond in a way that best suits them.

“Pupils can complete the questionnaire either in school during ICT lessons or in their own time via Google Classroom and have until next week to do so.”

Cath McEvoy-Carr, executive director for adult social care and children’s services at NCC, said: “It is custom in practice for the local authority to ask schools to discuss proposals, its positives and its negatives with students and to give them access to information on the proposals and the opportunity to respond in a way best for them to do so.

“The local authority asked the Seaton Valley Federation to ensure this was the case during this consultation process, and this has taken place this week via a presentation given in assemblies and a questionnaire which students can complete either in school or in their own time.”

Consultation on the merger plans is scheduled to run until December 1.