Plan for five Berkhamsted schools to become academies splits opinion

Ashlyns School is one of the five proposed to become an academy
Ashlyns School is one of the five proposed to become an academy

Plans to merge five schools in Berkhamsted and convert them to Academies has split opinion on what would be a major education shake-up.

Governing bodies at Ashlyns School, Bridgewater Primary, Greenway Primary, Swing Gate Infants and Westfield Primary have been exploring the possibility of creating a multi-academy trust (MAT).

The schools say that it would improve collaboration between the schools, strengthen the quality of education and allow them to take control of their own destiny.

But a number of teachers at Ashlyns School, who union members, have expressed reservations about the plans, saying they could worsen the conditions and pay of teachers, while criticising the lack of information and transparency in the plans – and the ‘haste’ in which they have been put together.

Backers of the proposed Berkhamsted Educational Trust say it would provide a range of important benefits for its member schools through greater collaboration and joint working between headteachers, senior leaders, staff and governors.

The proposed multi-academy trust would be established in November 2017 by the five schools, which would all convert to academy status.

Consultation on the proposal finishes on Friday, and the governing bodies of the five schools will then consider a report on the consultation and decide whether to proceed with the proposal on Monday.

James Shapland, head teacher at Ashlyns School, said: “This is a really exciting development, and we are already engaging with the primary schools and the school community.

“Children wouldn’t necessarily notice much of a change straight away, but for future students to get a continued curriculum from age three to 17 would be a really positive thing.”

But a number of teachers at the school seem to be far less enthused at the proposed plans, with members of staff at the school affiliated to the NUT and the ATL passing a motion on Monday calling on governors to oppose the plans.

Its motion stated that there is “no good reason for putting the provision of publicly funded education into the hands of a private company led by individuals who are not accountable to parents or the local community”.

Members voted overwhelmingly against the plan because they fear it will worsen their pay and conditions in the long term for “no guaranteed benefit” to the students or the wider community.

The teachers are also concerned at the speed with which the change is being made and lack of detail in the proposals. They also fear that the school, which sits on 40 acres of grounds, will also be vulnerable to parts of its estate being sold off.

Dr Stephen Wilkinson, who is a sociology teacher at the school, told the Gazette: “The members are generally very happy with the school and the way it is right now.

“They fear this is an unnecessary change that is being pushed upon them almost as a fait accompli. We’d like the governors to reconsider the plan and at least give more time to the consultation.”

But head teacher Mr Shapland said he would “not want to see any conditions or pay worsened”.

He added: “The NUT is against academisation and I think the teachers are taking the stand of their union. That’s why it’s important to have this consultation, for people to express their views.”