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Two secondary schools plan to join forces

By This is Somerset  |  Posted: March 26, 2009

Somervale School

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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.

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.

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    Stephan Urch, Midsomer Norton  |  March 31 2009, 12:16AM

    Secndary Education in Norton Radstock is unique having three excellent schools all within a three mile radius.Any community would welcome Somervale Writhlington and Norton Hill because they all provide an equally good education but at the same time are all different with their own individual vision and ethos. In its recent review of secondary education BANES concluded that Norton Radstock was best served by retaining its three secondary schools even though pupil nos. would drop the pupil population was sufficient to maintain three viable schools. Why then is there a need for Somervale to federate? Its not because Somervale is in need of an injection of superior management.The management and leadership at Somervale is good as recognised by Ofsted.When you have three schools competing for the same pupils is it any wonder that if two Norton Hill and Writhlington receive an unfair and disproportionate share of investment and resources the one that hasnt Somervale has seen its numbers decline. Somervale has managed severe cut backs in staff and resources to cope with its reduced roll. BANES have accepted and approved Somervales budgets and have been told that unless they made a substantial investment in the school which would confirm their confidence in Somervales future then despite all the sucess and tremendous work by Mike Gorman the S.M.T. staff students and governors a drop in pupil nos would continue. So we now have a situation where Somervale no longer has the scope to carry out any more cuts or savings and the only way to protect existing and future students education is to now seek a Federation with Norton Hill. This could and should have been avoided if BANES had given Somervale the support and investment it justly deserves.Somervales parents carers and students have an equal right to the same levels of provision as Norton Hill and Writhlington and should not accept less any longer.BANES treatment of Somervale has been unprofessional unfair and shabby.BANES education policy towards Somervale has been one without any thought or statedgy, waiting to see what happens just isnt good enough.This L.A. does not deserve to have a talented inspirational Head Teacher as Mike Gorman who has done a brilliant job at Somervale, the tradegy is that students and parents in Norton Radstock do. As for federation, it seens strange that an educational system that can afford to provide small Primary Schools with non-teaching heads can also consider that one Head Teacher for a secondary school with responsibility for over 2,000 pupils is the way forward. If the governing body for the proposed federation is drawn from the existing governors of both schools how can the vision and direction for both schools be maintained unless one faction has dominance? Mr.John Clayden Chair of Norton Hills Governors has stated that both schools will retain their independant identities. I dont see how,surely under the direction and leadership of Mr Peter Bevan Somervale will be Norton Hill but without the excellent facillities referred to by John Clayden If the ethos and vision that gives Somervale its seperate identity is lost then the choice for parents and students in Norton Radstock will be either Norton Hill or Norton Hill 11 In the future why would Somervale aka as Norton Hill 11 be chosen ,you might as well choose Norton Hill{the one with excellent facillities} I can see this might cause a few problems in the future with Norton Hill being totally over subscribed, but maybe this could be resolved by schools receiving year 7s from only their designated primaries. Finally local MP Dan Norris has shown he hasnt got a grasp of the situation either if he considers that Somervale has lacked proven strong leadership and clear direction. What it has lacked is fair treatment by BANES and equitable funding for schools like Somervale from his goverment.,and if he doesnt believe me he should just ask his constituents. Stephan Ur

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    Concerned parent, Radstock  |  March 29 2009, 12:17PM

    To us Somervale was our children's first choice. Having been smitten with Somervale we had to virtually force them to look at other options. Their hearts were set on this school and this is where they have spent many happy formative years. They are now coming up to major exams, the result of which will set them up for life. This federation and the uncertainty it is causing is the worse thing that could happen at this stage. Somervale was on the way to becoming an outstanding school in its own right under the leadership of Mr Gorman and his team, after becoming one of the most improved schools in the country. He has been robbed of the opportunity to shine by the selfish ambitions of others. But surely Mr Gorman deserved the loyalty and opportunity to move on buoyed by the results of another successful OFSTED in 2010. Money follows pupil numbers and both Writhlington and Norton Hill were greedy year after year increasing their "planned admission numbers" to the detriment of Somervale. This is despite the fact that a recent B&NES schools review found that there were ample numbers of pupils to make three local secondary schools viable. There has been a lack of strategic leadership from highly paid B&NES officials and executive councillors for years - just look how silent they are on this vitally important subject now. The sinking feeling of a stealth take-over, orchestrated over many years, is really apparent in the press coverage with comments from one head and his chair of governors but not from Mr Gorman, who justifiably commands high levels of respect amongst staff, pupils, parents and governors alike. Norton Hill's governing body and headteacher appear to crave domination of the federation and seem reluctant to believe that they could actually learn something about the "Somervale Way". A better understanding of the sensitivities from Somervale's point of view might have started this process on a better footing. As it is rumours of Mr Clayden demanding things are done his way abound while many of us believe Somervale and its community ethos has been sold down the river. More than ever Somervale needs strong voices at that heart of this process. People prepared to stand up for the small school in the face of its new big brother up the hill - now and in the future.

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    Elaine Milburn, Midsomer Norton  |  March 28 2009, 8:54AM

    As a parent whose child attends Somervale , I have great concern over the federation of the 2 schools. When my child had to move on from primary school I like many other parents had to make a choice for her, so duely visited all 3 schools as did many other parents to decide which would be the best place to learn. I chose Somervale as it has the best opportunities for my daughter. Now your telling me I need not have bothered as the two schools are merging, I didnt like Norton Hill I thought it was like a boot camp and I dont believe that sort of environment would benefit my child. Somervale believes in the children no matter if they are academic or not and they support them in every way. Now my child will be set bigger targets which she is not likely to meet as not all children are academic and if she fails will be made to feel inferior to others. At the moment she enjoys going to school and does not feel threatened in anyway but when the schools amalgamate I think it will be a different story as not all children are the same.

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    Parent, Radstock  |  March 27 2009, 6:04PM

    I am worried about Norton Hill taking over because their school is so big and at least in Somervale all the teachers know all the kid's name.

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    Parent Governor, Somervale  |  March 27 2009, 8:18AM

    Maintaining Somervale's strong sense of community will be hard in view of what many people see as a Norton Hill takeover. Their chair of governors talks only of helping "Somervale cope with falling numbers" when he should outlining what will be done to increase them. Norton Hill chose to increase their capacity to satisfy local demand. By doing so, on a regular basis, they have contributed to the perilous position of Somervale's falling roll. Also, Mr Clayden's demands last week that Somervale's letter to parents should not come from just Mr Gorman and our governing body leaves a sour taste with many of us who will fight to stop the upper school overwhelming its junior partner. The federation is inevitable but with a better understanding from Norton Hill as to what partnership working actually means.

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    Nik Jovcic-Sas, Radstock  |  March 27 2009, 12:56AM

    From when I joined in 2003 to the current day Somervale has just got better and better as a school. And it is all thanks to our inspirational head teacher Michael Gorman and the work of the schools dedicated and passionate staff. It is warm welcoming with a strong community atmosphere, I don't think there are many kids in the school I haven't seen before or wouldn't know something about. I was disappointed to hear about the foundation. It just goes to show that Norton Hill is still seen as the Grammar school and Somervale the secondary modern. As someone who goes to Somervale you can't help but feel that though we have all worked so hard to improve the school in our own little way the falling pupil numbers were our inevitable downfall. But despite these things, this is a phenomenal opportunity for the Midsomer Norton community. For the two schools to put aside old rivalries and teach each other a thing or two about what makes our schools so great. But I would be wary of causing too much change in Somervale as the falling pupil numbers are not necesserily their own fault. But at the same time Somervale must accept this new change as we have few other options to turn to. I wish Mr Gorman all the best of luck in what ever he decides to do next and I a sincere 'good luck' to Mr Beavan who is going to have a difficult task at hand to fill the large boots left by his predescessor.

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    A Very annoyed pupil of Somervale !, midsomer norton  |  March 26 2009, 4:30PM

    somervale is a great school and Mr.Gorman is a great headteacher. he has done so much for this school which i think sometimes people may not appreciate or understand what great things he has done for Somervale.i feel that Somer vale hasnt been given as fair chance as other schools in the area. Somervale listen to your views and i would feel 100% comfortable to put any views foward cause i know i would be listened to . i think Somervale shouldnt have been let down in such a way that it has as in my opinion. I have made great progress at this schoool has im sure many other have.so whoever doesnt believe that Somervale is great school ..is very mistaken ! x

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    Jon Parry, Midsomernorton  |  March 26 2009, 10:49AM

    I disagree with a federation and Mr Beaven becomeing head of both schools as i dont think that any one else beleives in somervale as much as Mr Gorman. I atented Norton Hill from 2003-2005 and many times somervale were made out to be second class. In september 2005 i left norton hill to join somervale and can hounestly say that i have never met a nicer man than Mr Gorman. he made feel verry welcome and showed a great intrest in my progress both academic an extracuricular. what was more he showed the same interest in my younger brother who has dislexia. it was made clear that he was proud of you if got 12 A*'s or 3 G's if that was the best you can do. I never got that encouragement at norton hill.