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Frequently asked questions about the future of South Shields School

Why could the school be closing?

South Shields School was rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted in its full inspection visit in October 2017. Under government legislation, the Department for Education places a Directive Academy Order on any school judged to be inadequate by Ofsted and the Regional Schools Commissioner must then identify an academy trust to sponsor the school.

In line with legal requirements, the Regional Schools Commissioner has informed the Secretary of State for Education that a sponsor could not be found. The school cannot become an academy without a sponsor. As a result, the Secretary of State has advised that the Directive Academy Order can be revoked, but this can only be on the condition that the Council undertakes the statutory process to close the school. Therefore the Council is required to start a consultation process on closure.

Why is there no sponsor?

The key reason the Regional Schools Commissioner has not been able to find a sponsor is falling pupil numbers, leading to concerns about the viability of the school in the future.

Pupil numbers for September 2018 are at their lowest since the new school opened in 2007 and are predicted to fall further in future years. Since school funding is in the main based on pupil numbers, falling numbers create significant financial difficulties. The school was originally built for 1100 pupils and it currently has 413.

Have declining pupil numbers been caused by the threat of closure?

77 children were admitted to South Shields School in September, of whom 54 had expressed a preference for the school during the admissions round, which ran from 8 September - 31 October 2017.

Why can't the Council just step in to keep the school open? 

The current legislation does not allow the Council to continue to maintain a school with a Directive Academy Order so it is not an option legally for the school to be run by the Council. There are no alternatives that would enable the school to remain open without a sponsor to take over.

Are there any alternative options?

No alternative options have been identified to resolve the school's viability issues, caused by reducing pupil numbers. The key issue for South Shields School is low and falling pupil numbers and no options considered to date or examples from elsewhere in the country will resolve that. Improved standards, which includes school results or Ofsted judgement, will not impact on the viability.

Why have some schools nationally had Academy Orders for over two years?

There are a small number of schools nationally that have had an Academy Order in place for two or more years. However, each school has its own specific individual factors that apply to them, so a direct comparison is not possible. We are only aware of 4 secondary schools who have had a Directive Academy Order removed since the 2010 Academies Act came into force.

The specific factors in relation to the viability of South Shields School includes the close proximity of other secondary schools with substantial places; lack of demographic growth in the area; and the financial implications of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) agreement for which no solutions can be identified.

What has the Council done to help the school to find a sponsor?

Although it is the responsibility of the Regional School's Commissioner (RSC) to find a sponsor, the Council has worked closely with the RSC and has provided a variety of information in this search.

The Council has also held discussions directly with two potential sponsors but both of these later withdrew their interest in the school due to viability concerns. The due diligence undertaken by potential sponsors clearly identified viability concerns (not school results) as the critical issue. The impact of the school becoming unviable is a risk for any organisation coming forward to consider sponsoring the school.

Can the Council ask Ofsted to come back to re-inspect the school?

Ofsted would not normally monitor or inspect a school with a Directive Academy Order. However the Lead Member for Children's Services has written to the Ofsted Regional Director to request their support in undertaking a further inspection as soon as possible. 

As South Shields School has been rated Inadequate, a Directive Academy Order has been placed on the school. Any future inspection outcome does not change that from a legal perspective and it does not follow that an improved grading would lead to removal of the Academy Order.  It also does not address the underlying viability issues.

The school is showing improvement so why close it?

The provisional data shared with us by the school shows that the school's GCSE results have improved this year on last year's results in Maths and English. Validated data for all of our secondary schools will be available in early 2019 which will provide a full picture of pupil progress and attainment at South Shields School.

The school was rated as 'good' by Ofsted in 2014 and then rated as 'Inadequate' in October 2017. The school then had an inspection monitoring inspection in May 2018 where it was deemed to be taking effective action to address the issues raised in the 'Inadequate' Inspection of 2017. Evidence of sustainable improvement would normally be based on a trend of results over time, usually three years data.

However the issue facing the school is not because of school standards - it is about the fall in the numbers of pupils coming into the school and longer term viability. This process is described above under 'Why could the school be closing'. With such low numbers coming into the school, the balance and breadth of the curriculum will be seriously affected. The numbers of pupils choosing South Shields School has been steadily falling. Pupils and parents made their choice of school both before the Ofsted monitoring visit and before this consultation process started.

Where are the nearest schools with places?

Mortimer Community College and Boldon Schools have sufficient places to accommodate pupils from South Shields School now and in the future. These schools currently have better Ofsted judgements than South Shields School. Each school is currently judged as 'Requires Improvement' and have shown improvements in their GCSE results this summer.

Many pupils from the South Shields School catchment area already attend these schools.

Parents can also express a preference for any other secondary school in South Tyneside, although not all schools will have places available in each of the relevant year groups.

Why is South Shields closing when other schools also have spare places?

The reasons for the consultation are given above in the section 'Why is the school closing'. South Shields has the highest number of surplus places of any school in South Tyneside against their capacity. It has also had by far the lowest rate of parental preferences and Year 7 admissions in the last two years.

South Shields School is rated inadequate and has a Directive Academy Order. There are no other schools in South Tyneside in that position.

Have declining pupil numbers been caused by the threat of closure?

No, this is not the case. Admissions for the last two years have been unsustainably low as pupils and parents have chosen other schools. Both admissions rounds took place before publication of the South Shields Ofsted report and before any communications regarding the potential risk to the school, including any information shared via the local press.

77 children were admitted to South Shields School in September, of whom 54 had expressed a preference for the school during the admissions round.

The Council has a duty during future admissions periods to make parents aware that there is currently a consultation taking place regarding this school.

Has the impact on the community around South Shields School been taken into account?

As part of the consultation we will be gathering information about the impact on the community if South Shields School closes. This will involve an assessment of where people live and what the barriers will be to attending another nearby school, for example, transport to school and uniform costs.

There are many pupils at South Shields School with Special Educational Needs (SEN).  What will happen to these pupils?

There are a relatively low numbers of pupils with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) compared to other secondary schools in South Tyneside, although the school has identified larger numbers of pupils who require additional SEN support. The Council's SEND Team will work closely with the school and parents to explore the best options for all pupils with additional needs and those with EHCPs.

My child attends South Shields School - what should I do?

There will be no change at the school in the 2018/ 2019 academic year.

From September 2018 there will continue to be a Year 7, Year 8, Year 9, Year 10 and Year 11. Nothing will be different in the year ahead.

My child started Year 7 in September 

Nothing will be changing at South Shields School in the 2018/2019 academic year and we would expect all Year 7 pupils from September to be at South Shields School for at least 2 years.  Transition plans will be put into place so if any changes do happen they are done in a managed way limiting the impact on children.  Parents are strongly advised not to move children outside of the planned transition.

I was going to apply for a Year 7 place for my child from September 2019 at South Shields School - what are my options? 

We are informing parents who wish to apply for a place in Year 7 from September 2019 that there is a statutory closure consultation underway for South Shields School.

Parents are able to express a preference for up to 3 schools on an 'equal preference' basis. This means that if a decision is taken to close the school, parents should not be disadvantaged by choosing South Shields School as one of their 3 options. Further information is available from the Council's Admissions Team. Read more about secondary school admissions.

What happens if my child is doing GCSEs? 

We want to ensure there is as little disruption as possible for all pupils and particularly those who have already begun, or who are about to begin, GCSEs. The transition proposal is that pupils who are going into Year 10 and Year 11 in September 2018 will complete their GCSEs at South Shields School. The Council is committed to supporting pupils in Year 10 to the end of their GCSE examinations. There is a commitment to the school remaining open until 2020.

If a decision is taken to close South Shields School, those pupils who will be going into Year 10 in September 2019 will move into their new school to begin their GCSEs in that year to minimise disruption.

Can I take my child out of South Shields School now?

As a parent you have a right to express a preference for a different school at any time. However, both the Council and the school would advise that you consider the transition proposal, which would move whole year groups of pupils in a planned way in either September 2019 or September 2020. This will enable disruption to pupils to be minimised.  

During the period of organisational change, where there are increased numbers of pupils moving to different schools (in-year admissions), pupils will be admitted to the new school at the start of each half term.

Is there any support for additional travel costs?

Eligibility for support with home to school transport will be determined in line with the Council's home to school transport policy. Information is available at Help with school and college transport.

It is recognised that as some pupils will need to make new journeys to school and some pupils may have further to travel. A review of the positioning of school crossing patrols will be carried out with a view to relocating patrol points if necessary. There is also sufficient local transport provision to cover the routes from home to school of current pupils.

What about the building?

The consultation proposal is focused on the School and we are not at this stage considering any potential future use of the building or the site. The school was built under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which does limit options for future use and there are also statutory limitations that prevent loss of school sites for building.

Therefore regardless of the outcome of the consultation we expect the school to continue to operate as a community or educational facility.

How do I have my say?

The Representation Period is open from 21 November 2018 to 19 December 2018. During this period any person may object or make comment to the proposal at southshieldsconsultation@southtyneside.gov.uk  or by post to South Shields Consultation, South Tyneside Council, Town Hall and Civic Offices, South Shields, NE33 2RL. We are unable to consider any responses received after midnight on Wednesday 19 December 2018.

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