Two secondary schools plan to join forces
Two Midsomer Norton secondary schools are planning to join forces to safeguard the future of education in the area.
Parents, teachers and local councillors are being consulted on a proposal to form a federation linking Somervale and Norton Hill schools.
The move has been proposed to help solve the problem of falling pupil numbers and budget concerns at Somervale School.
The Redfield Road school is losing pupils, which leads to cuts in funding, which in turn reduces the range of subjects that students can be offered and also puts jobs at risk.
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Governors at Somervale have approached the governors of successful and oversubscribed Norton Hill School to discuss forming a federation as a way of injecting the necessary management expertise to help the school become the first choice for more parents.
Both schools feel federating would be a way of preventing a two-tier education system forming in the community and the only way of ensuring the best possible education for every young person living locally.
Norton Hill headteacher Peter Beaven said: "All children in the area deserve the best education so if, by federation with Somervale, we can continue to raise standards and help bring back pupil numbers and the resources that go with it, then we can ensure that Norton-Radstock has the educational range and resources that will give our children the very best start in life that we can give them."
A federation is established when two or more schools agree to work together on a formal basis.
Federation schools remain separate schools; they have separate budgets, their own Ofsted inspections and report their results individually.
The schools will also keep their own uniforms and will both continue to be foundation schools.
Assembly presentations have been made to students about the changes and both headteachers say the response so far from the youngsters has been very positive.
Letters have also been sent out to parents, consulting on the proposal, which if it goes ahead would see the schools sharing one governing body and one headteacher – which will be current Norton Hill headteacher Peter Beaven.
Should the federation be formed, Somervale's headteacher Mike Gorman has stated he would leave the school this summer to take up other opportunities in education.
Chairman of Somervale governors Steve Nolan said: "Michael Gorman joined us in 2002, just at the time when the school was having problems and was put into Special Measures by inspectors.
"His work and leadership has taken the school to the point where Ofsted has graded the school as good on almost all measures and makes it one of the most improved schools in the country, according to the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
"Despite that success, we are still losing pupil numbers and with that decline we lose funding – and losing funding means it's hard to provide the breadth of education our pupils deserve.
"So the proposal to federate with Norton Hill School to benefit from their management expertise and economies of scale is very attractive."
Chairman of Norton Hill governors John Clayden said: "Federation for the two schools would mean there would be one headteacher for both schools, Peter Beaven, currently head of Norton Hill School.
"There would also be one governing body.
"Apart from that, the two schools will retain their independent identities and teaching staff and have separate budgetary responsibilities.
"There are, however, opportunities for economies of scale through increased purchasing power that will help both schools. This will help Somervale cope with falling numbers and cuts in funding.
"Of course, Norton Hill will remain an outstanding school and the aim will be to make Somervale outstanding, too.
"Parents of children who attend Norton Hill will see no difference in the educational service we deliver.
"Class sizes will remain the same, the curriculum will not change, the excellent facilities we have to offer both during the school day and outside, will continue."
The proposal is being supported by MP Dan Norris.
He said: "I have met both headteachers and it is clear federation is a significant step that has been thought through in great detail and with care.
"It will impact not just on school staff, governors, parents, and of course pupils, but also upon the wider community.
"But the really important question is how will federation benefit our children, specifically how will it further raise the high educational standards they currently enjoy and how will it boost their life chances after leaving school?
"I have thought this over very carefully and I believe federation would provide proven strong leadership, clear direction, and lead to even greater success and higher pupil achievement.
"It therefore gets my vote and my full support and backing. I'm pleased both governing bodies are keen to hear local opinion and I urge parents, and others across the communities both schools have served so well, to make their voices heard."
The consultation will take place over the next six weeks.
The two individual governing bodies will meet on May 5 to consider the responses and vote on whether to proceed.
If it receives support, the new management structure will begin at the start of the autumn term.
The only other secondary school in the area is Writhlington School, which is also undergoing massive changes with a £26 million investment.