A North East council has been asked to help secure the future of a County Durham secondary school as it prepares to join a multi academy trust.
St Bede’s RC Comprehensive, in Peterlee, has been supported by the Northern Saints Academy Trust, now the Bishop Chadwick Catholic Academy Trust, since 2015 after the school received a ‘requires improvement’ Ofsted rating followed by a sharp decrease in pupil numbers which raised financial viability concerns.
Due to the specific circumstances of the school, and the risks of provision of suitable faith school places in the area, Durham County Council has worked closely with the school over the last five years on the financial difficulties it has faced. The school was given permission to set an in-year deficit budget for the last two years while a viable long terms solution was found.
To safeguard the school’s future, the council secured temporary leadership support from St Wilfrid’s RC school in South Tyneside, part of the Academy Trust. The executive leadership provided by St Wilfrid’s had a significant impact in accelerating the school’s improvement of Ofsted ratings, in turn transforming its performance and pupil numbers.
The work of the Executive Headteacher and the continuing support of St Wilfrid’s was instrumental in outcomes improving significantly across 2015, with progress sustained into 2016. This rapid development helped the school secure a good overall Ofsted inspection in February 2017.
The school has continued to prosper with the support of the Academy Trust and outcomes for 2019 were excellent in terms of progress and attainment, ensuring that the school is a strong provider with some outstanding aspects of progress.
To safeguard the future of the school further, and ensure its continued development, Bishop Chadwick Trust has expressed an interest in taking St Bede’s into their academy trust.
On July 8, the council’s cabinet will meet to discuss a request for the council to write off the school’s cumulative deficit when it joins Bishop Chadwick Trust. This accumulated deficit has arisen while the school dealt with the low intakes following the Ofsted judgement in 2015.
A report to the cabinet meeting states that writing off the school’s deficit would be a one-off cost to the council that would facilitate the transfer, thereby retaining educational provision and providing a basis for building a financially suitable position for the school and sixth form going forward.
On joining Bishop Chadwick Trust, St Bede’s will then receive significant financial support from the trust during its continuing recovery.
Cllr Olwyn Gunn, Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “With the support of the Bishop Chadwick Trust, St Bede’s has been able to improve its pupil numbers, Ofsted rating, and performance on league tables significantly. This has been a lifeline in enabling the school to meet the educational needs of its pupils and ensure a more sustainable future for the school.”
Cllr Alan Napier, Deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, said: “Enabling St Bede’s to sustainably join Bishop Chadwick Trust will be instrumental for the ongoing improvements of the school. As a council we will consider how we can support the school in order to safeguard its future.”
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