School merger plans given the go-ahead

Norfolk’s first school for four to 18-year-olds was given the go-ahead by Norfolk County Council this week.

A proposal to merge 93-pupil Hockwold Primary School with 750-pupil Methwold High had been proposed by governors who felt the move would best utilise funding, staff and recourses.

This would create Hockwold and Methwold Community School from September and could mean pupils are taught at the same school for the duration of their education.

Although the proposal was to formally close Hockwold Primary as a separate institution and extend the age-range of Methwold High from the current 11 to 18-year-olds to four to 18-year-olds, younger pupils would still be taught from the Hockwold buildings.

Denise Walker is head at both Hockwold and Methwold and the two schools already work closely together.

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She would become the head of the merged school and described it as “very exciting” and “the way forward”.

“I am really pleased we have got the support of the governing body and the community. We have done significant consultation with stakeholders and there is a positive feeling that amalgamation is the way forward for us.

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“We are pioneering as we are the first in Norfolk to do this and it is a unique situation.”

Mrs Walker added: “We believe it will open up so many opportunities for young people and children to come together and gives staff better professional development.”

She stressed the two schools sites would remain and the identity of both villages would be maintained.

The four-11s will continue to be taught at Hockwold and the 11-18s will stay at Methwold, but Mrs Walker said there was already a partnership in place which involved the children and young people mixing.

“Two students from the sixth form do drama at Hockwold and we have students from high school taking assemblies.”

In a report which went before Norfolk County Council’s cabinet on Monday, officers Tim Newton and Alison Cunningham said benefits of an all-through school, which could begin from September this year, would lead to improved standards in teaching and learning, closer co-operation between teachers, a “coherent” curriculum, “excellent” pastoral support and high-quality leadership.

Resources would also be shared, and the budget for September would be the combined amount the schools would have received if they had remained separate. A model of funding for all-through schools would be consulted on for the 2012 school year.

It is expected there would be little impact on the high school but staff would need to be appointed for the primary years. This would be likely to come from present staff at Hockwold.

The report went on: “We believe this model has significant potential, particularly in rural areas, to maintain and develop sustainable and high quality education in local communities by planning and providing learning across the four to 18 age range in a way that better matches children’s developing needs.”

A consultation was undertaken amongst parents and the community earlier this year and although 906 documents were distributed, only 36 responses were received.

Of these, just over 45pc were in favour of the proposal, while just over 54pc were against. The two sets of governors also held meetings for parents and carers late last year.

Methwold High is also planning to offer part-time degree courses, accredited by various universities, from September.

It is hoped the scheme will provide a credible alternative for school-leavers and mature students in an area where higher education is often out of reach culturally and financially.

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