Monday, 15 June 2015

Update on Haydon Bridge High School

As many of you will be aware Haydon Bridge High School is currently in special measures having been rated as inadequate by Ofsted.

The school was visited by Ofsted inspectors in December last year and was found to be inadequate in leadership and management, behaviour and safety of pupils, quality of teaching, and achievement of pupils. Ofsted found its sixth form provision “requires improvement.”

I met the County Council's top education bosses last week to discuss the situation and see how best we can make progress for the pupils of Haydon Bridge High School.

Essentially if a school does not improve quickly then a Local Authority has two options; either to close the school or convert it into an academy, effectively releasing it from their control to an Academy sponsor.

It is my view that converting Haydon Bridge into Academy would be the best solution.

Academies were originally a Labour policy designed to improve struggling schools, but now there are many academies across the country providing a fantastic level of education.

Academies have more freedom than other state schools, giving the Head teacher more powers over their finances, curriculum, length of terms and school days.

I myself have visited some fantastic Academy schools across the North East and have always been impressed by the improvements a strong and determined Headteacher is able to make.

Fundamentally academies take power away from politicians and bureaucrats and hand it to the heads and teachers who know their pupils best.

There is no question that the Education system in Northumberland is suffering from deep problems which have been a long time coming. In our area there are a number of schools which Ofsted has raised concered about and Northumberland County Council was ranked 132nd out of 151 local authorities for GCSE and A-Level performance in 2013. Reportedly Northumberland County Council has been put 146th of 147 for rate of improvement. That is simply not good enough.

The research very clearly shows that previously failing schools are more in demand since becoming academies and the vast majority of academy heads feel their results have improved overall.

The main reasons schools choose to convert is to raise educational standards and to gain greater freedom to spend their budgets on improving standards. All funding for academies goes directly to Headteachers to spend directly on education.

Education bosses from the County are meeting with Department of Education officals this week to discuss possible Academy sponsors. 

I will continue to keep you updated over the coming weeks. 


  1. I look forward to hearing your updates as HBHS is a vital part of the Haydon Bridge community.

  2. In your opinion?? How odd when the opinion's of many a parent with children at this school and many others like it count's for nothing. The meeting held at the School last week was full of people claiming to know what is best for us but no one listened to the voice of the parent's. Also the Government could not even get a representative to the meeting,amazing i know after all it is just our children's education we are trying to discuss.
    I may not be against academy's in principle but in reality they are in the main unpopular and unwanted and we,as parent's are left in the dark and then when we get a chance of a meeting to open up channels we are told there is no real way to reverse the decision??????

    I wonder when Ofsted reports are found out to be what they really are,a political axe to be used to thin out unwanted dead wood.

  3. the meeting at the school was a total waste of time, the parents have never been given a chance to talk. they told us nothing that we didn't already know. I have made so many complaints over the last few months and don't even get a reply to the emails. I have had children at the school for the last 19 years,. the last 3 years have seen the school drop so far, that all our childrens futures are at stake. there are a few teachers who genuinely want to teach, but there are a lot who basically don't give a toss. I have 2 children with special needs who are funded but I found out that for 18mths they didn't get any help, so what happened to their funding, what did the school spend it on, how many other children with special needs didn't get any support. The NPLP are the ones who took the funds used them for other things and who drove our school into the ground, but hiring teachers with poor knowledge , lack of experience, and who would be cheaper to employ. they used mr whittle as a scape goat, their sole aim was to run the school into the ground so it would become an academy for their gain. no concern for our children at all. and now good teachers are jumping ship as they can see the day when we are made to become an academy,this is all about politics and nothing to do with the future of our children or a local community, .in my opinion the reason they not appointing a new head , is that no one would take the job knowing that a sponsor might get rid of them, also we don't even know if the current SLT would want to even stay if it became an academy. all I know is my children have practically had no education this year at all. .its is very rare that primary schools fail, and im sure this is because parents have more involvement in their childrens education, once they in high school , you maybe get to go to parents evening and that's it. guy opperman will only do what he can to make himself look good. why trust a man who,s government want to get rid of schools and break communities

  4. Dear Mr Opperman,

    As a former HBHS student I read your comments above with interest. I do however disagree with your assertion that the only two options are to either close the school or to turn it into an academy. It appears to me that this is the policy of the current government but presumably you have a voice within that government? What you should be looking to do is to help build a structure within Tynedale that will provide the best education for children in the area. It strikes me that neither of the two options you have presented provides a long term or joined up solution.

    The first option you present is to close the school. Following the earlier closure of Allendale Middle School in 2013 amid a veil of secrecy there seems to be an unvoiced agenda to shut schools within the area. A few years ago when there was supposed to be a pot of money available to build the correct infrastructure to support a two-tier system this made some sense. Now as a pure cost saving measure it is selling children far short. If the decision to close HBHS were taken where would the children who attend a school with one of the largest catchment areas in the whole country go? The only neighbouring school in Northumberland is QEHS at Hexham, do they have space for an additional 600 students? HBHS had been rated as ‘Good’ in the previous Ofsted report, it would surely be a more measured approach to try and get it back to that standard rather than giving up on it.

    The second option you mention is to turn it into an academy; which is now the official preference of the government. I confess I did not know much about the academy system before reading your blog but following some research I don’t see any significant benefits for HBHS, or the education system in general. The main criticism in the recent Ofsted report, which led to the school being placed in special measures, was a lack of leadership. Academy status would put more power in the hands of the leaders of the school, so how does that help HBHS? The school should be looking to build on their strengths and fix their weaknesses. Your suggestion is to ignore the key weakness and also shift more power and burden in its direction. HBHS has been unable to attract strong leadership since Mr Thompson left over ten years ago. Perhaps this would be something you could use your influence to help with?

    Continued below (due to character limit):

  5. The government should be looking to play a key role in education and instead they are trying to absolve themselves of all responsibility. If a business had thousands of offices around the country/world and wanted to provide a quality service while also running efficiently could you see management devolving all power to the individual offices and saying to them ‘do whatever you want’? It just wouldn’t work like that. It would be chaos, with no consistent standard and no guarantee of quality or efficiency. In the business situation the head office would set a framework for the offices to operate within and have managers to oversee groups of those offices to ensure standards were met. That is what the Department for Education should be doing, not cutting all the schools loose to sink or swim on their own.

    The benefit that I can see of the academy system to the government is being able to get rid of a layer of bureaucracy in the local education authorities. If that is the plan then why doesn’t the Department for Education just come out and say that instead of sneaking around the subject? People would be more likely to trust politicians if they came up with a solid plan and worked towards it. You comment that the ‘education system in Northumberland is suffering from deep problems’. Shouldn’t you be trying to fix those problems? If there are issues with the LEA then someone needs to get in there and sort it. Your recommendation of going down the academy route merely aims to bypass those problems and push all the responsibility onto the individual school.

    I can see that for some schools the academy option would be (and has been) successful. There will be some great sponsors out there who do not have an ulterior motive in wanting to be heavily associated with a school. Unfortunately these sponsors seem to be outweighed by those who stand to gain either financially or by being able to influence young people towards their own causes or beliefs. On a similar note there will be some brilliant headmasters who armed with the additional decision making powers will do a fantastic job. However as the previous two Headmasters have shown at HBHS not all are up to the task (and that was with the previous level of administration let alone with additional responsibilities)!

    The school was placed into special measures following the disappointing recent Ofsted report, in my opinion neither of your two options are particularly ‘special’. The local MP and LEA should be working with the school to bring it back to the position where only four years ago it was considered ‘good’. Instead it appears either way you want to follow your party’s line and wash your hands of it.

    Kind regards

    Peter Drydon

    Ps if government wants to play no part in running the education system then perhaps someone should tell Nicky Morgan she needs to get a new job.

  6. Charles Sanderson21 June 2015 at 12:02

    There are a number of issues that need to be addressed but haven't been mentioned above. They are the hard truths politicians and the public/parents all avoid.

    An Academy sponsor is unlikely to take on HBHS as it is not a viable school. A combination of the significant cuts in 6th form funding by the coalition and falling birth rates will make it difficult to maintain a viable high school in Haydon Bridge in the future.

    Teacher recruitment is a real problem, it is a real problem to recruit quality teachers, partly because of shortages in certain subjects such as Maths. Also the further west out of Newcastle the more difficult it is to attract teachers, when budgets don't allow a decent wage to be paid.

    Although not a fan of two tier, this needs to happen across Northumberland to maintain viability. Falling birth rates is a real issue for Northumberland Schools, a ticking time bomb which will go off within the next 5 years without action. There are clearly too many schools in Northumberland, particularly village first schools, but also middle schools. People are very protective of village schools, but having so many compromises teaching quality overall.

    There may be a need for a single 6th form college for the west of the county/Tyne Valley to maintain a broad enough curriculum.

    Academies are not the magic solution. There is no evidence that the they work better than under LA control. There are as many fail as there are successful.

    Historically the leadership within the education department has been weak in Northumberland CC. This has been addressed and there is a good team in place now. The task they face however is now huge, it is proverbial the oil tanker which difficult to turn around quickly. Politicians will jump on this to make party political points to justify their stance and discredit those in place.

    Without a house building programme across Northumberland to boost the population, then radical restructuring of schools is needed. This is likely to need a change to 2 tier and mergers/closures. People need to understand this need to merge and/or close schools. School governors need to start taking action to lead the process, before control is taken out of their hands.

    Action will be taken, I suspect it will be taken too late and involve lots of party politics/ideologies, not what is best for the children. I hope I'm proved wrong.