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Takeover of struggling Northumberland school cancelled

Haydon Bridge High School has around 360 pupils. Photo: ITV News Tyne Tees

A planned takeover of a struggling school in Northumberland has been cancelled amid fears over its future.

Haydon Bridge High School has been in special measures since 2014, and was earmarked by the government to become an academy.

It will now stay under local council control, after Bright Tribe Trust walked away, saying falling pupil numbers have "had an insurmountable impact on the school’s long-term viability."

Haydon Bridge was judged by inspectors as 'inadequate' three years ago, and the government named Bright Tribe as its preferred sponsor in October 2015.

That takeover was meant to be completed by September 2016.

In May 2017, Ofsted said: "Unacceptable delays and disputes over the leadership and status of the school over the past two and a half years have resulted in pupils being badly let down."

Bright Tribe has now said it will no longer support the school, as it presenters "a significant financial risk" to the trust.

Bright Tribe was named by the government as an 'outstanding' sponsor in 2015.

In 2015 Bright Tribe Trust was selected by the Department for Education to sponsor Haydon Bridge High School. Since this time progress relating to the transfer of the school has been hindered by the school’s significant and increasing financial deficit. In the period, the school has seen a significant reduction in the number of pupils on roll and there is no sign of this increasing, in fact there has been a steady decline over the last five years. The comparatively small number of pupils on roll has had an insurmountable impact on the school’s long-term viability.

During the initial period of due diligence, the Trust took effective action to drive up educational outcomes for the school and improve the learning environment. It has invested heavily in the school, putting into place and funding a number of measures, including the appointment of a Regional Executive Principal and Principal to work alongside the school’s existing senior leaders and staff to drive up standards and improve outcomes for students. This is reflected in the improved GCSE results gained across a variety of subjects under the leadership of this team. Bright Tribe has also provided back office support for the school’s finance team and Interim Executive Board, as well as securing a DfE Environmental Improvement Grant which it used to make much needed capital improvements to the premises.

The Trust has been working closely with the DfE, Regional Schools Commissioner and Secretary of State appointed Interim Executive Board however the financial position and long-term viability of the school presents a significant financial risk to the Trust and its portfolio of other schools and Bright Tribe Trust therefore concludes that it can no longer continue to support Haydon Bridge High School.

The IEB, along with headteacher Darren Glover, will continue driving improvements.

– Bright Tribe Trust statement

Haydon Bridge has capacity for 900 pupils, but only 361 were on roll in October 2017.

A merger with another local school has been suggested previously.

We are working closely with the Regional School Commissioner to identify a sustainable education solution for the West of Northumberland.

Officers are working to identify the possible impact of this significant event and will seek approval from the Council’s Cabinet to work with local schools in the first instance to look at potential options going forward, which may result in wider informal consultation.

Delivering a good quality sustainable education in Northumberland remains a priority for us and the local authority continues to work with all involved for the benefit of the children in the area.

– Northumberland County Council spokesperson

The Bright Tribe Trust has confirmed it will no longer sponsor Haydon Bridge Community High School and Sports College because of the significant challenges the school faces.

Our priority is pupils’ education and we will now work with the local authority and Regional Schools Commissioner, Janet Renou, to find a suitable alternative for pupils and staff.

– Department for Education spokesperson

Bright Tribe is a not-for-profit trust with 16 academies around the country.

As we reported earlier this year, it also walked away from two schools in County Durham, again saying a takeover was not financially viable.

It does now run Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland and Haltwhistle Community Campus in Northumberland.

It has faced controversy over its running of Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, which it today announced it was withdrawing from.

The trust's Chief Operating Officer has also departed, having only been in post since February 2017.