Headteacher defends school merger plans

King's School, Tynemouth
King's School, Tynemouth

A HEADTEACHER at a private school has defended plans to merge with a nearby state primary school to create a pioneering academy.

Concern has been expressed by politicians and parents about proposals drawn up by the King’s School in Tynemouth to merge with nearby Priory Primary School.

However, King’s School headteacher Edward Wesson has defended the move, saying that in the current economic climate it was the only way the Huntington Place school could survive.

Parents currently pay more than £9,000 a year for their child to attend the 152-year-old school, but those fees would be scrapped if the merger goes ahead.

Speaking at the school’s annual prize-giving ceremony, Mr Wesson said: “Private schools have been pricing themselves steadily higher, with above-inflation fee rises year after year for several decades.

“Some of our parents can afford it comfortably, many of them make extraordinary sacrifices to make it happen, some really struggle to afford it, and many more, whose children do not come to King’s, do not even try it as it is out of their reach, even though they want it.

“For many private schools, the chill is serious, particularly in the Midlands and the north.

“It is increasingly difficult for the average worker in many occupations to afford this. This is where academies come in.

“The academy deal is simple. The private school gives up fees and selection at 11-plus but, in every other respect, remains as before.

“The academies programme allows the independents to continue to provide a rich and holistic education, and it demands that the school achieve academic excellence.”

Mr Wesson believes the move will help improve educational standards in the borough.

“Our particular partnership with an outstanding primary school in Priory, a school with a similar ethos right on our doorstep, represents a unique opportunity for collaboration,” he said.

“I am sensitive to the fear of a school being swamped by larger class sizes and by a lowering of standards.

“I am particularly sensitive to the fears of our junior school parents, who have benefited from small classes and focused individual attention, but I hope those fears can be allayed by keeping class sizes reasonable and by maintaining very high standards.

“That in any event is what already goes on at Priory.”

He added: “I do not pretend that an announcement of such significance in the history of the school should not cause consternation and anxiety amongst some parents, though I know that there will be relief among many.

“As a teaching staff, we commit ourselves to being at the vanguard of maintaining and improving the high standards and the all-round education for which the school has some reputation.

“It is not an easy task, but it is a solemn commitment.”

The Department for Education has endorsed plans for the King’s School and the North Tyneside Council-run Percy Park Road primary to merge to form the Kings Priory Academy.

The new academy, scheduled to open next September, would be sponsored and operated by the London-based Woodard Academies Trust. The King’s School is already part of the Woodard Corporation.

The new school is expected to eventually have 1,425 places for pupils – 600 in its primary, classes 625 of secondary age and a sixth form of 200 – with class sizes expected to be a maximum of 25.

A poll on the News Guardian’s website, www.newsguardian.co.uk, revealed that four fifths of respondents are opposed to the merger.

n Letters – Page 8

n Look out for a report on the King’s School’s prize-giving ceremony in next week’s News Guardian.