Neatherd High School takes legal advice over warning notice about Dereham Sixth Form College split

Peter Devonish, headteacher of Dereham Neatherd High School

Peter Devonish, headteacher of Dereham Neatherd High School - Credit: Archant

The head of a Dereham high school is taking legal advice after Norfolk County Council issued it with a warning notice in a bid to stop it setting up its own sixth form.

Dereham Sixth Form College has been run jointly by Neatherd High School and Northgate High School since 1977, but in February Neatherd announced it was planning to set up its own separate sixth form.

Yesterday, Norfolk County Council issued a formal warning notice to Neatherd High School, in an attempt to stop it setting up its own sixth form, giving it 10 working days to comply.

If it does not comply, the council could take control of its finances and replace its governors.

Today, Neatherd headteacher Peter Devonish wrote to parents defending the school's plans.


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He wrote: 'We do have robust and fully conceived plans based on successful student outcomes and careful financial management. We will take every opportunity to defend our case, making direct representations to the Department for Education, regarding the local authority's conduct.

'We are also seeking independent legal advice to that end. Our students rightly deserve the very best education we can offer and we know can be delivered here at Neatherd. My staff, governors and I are united in defending our reputation and our right to provide our students with the very best.'

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The full text of Peter Devonish's letter to parents, carers and students

19th April 2016

Dear Parents/ Carers and Students

Neatherd Sixth Form

We are very happy that we have a viable Sixth Form and secure plans for Year 12 starting next September, based at our school. Students have been overwhelmingly positive in making their applications with many having returned to us who had previously made a decision to travel to Reepham, Wymondham or into Norwich in order to find the highest quality provision they aspire to and deserve. Students have a wide range of curriculum options matching their choices. Numbers, likely to be in the region of 100, are in-line with DfE expectations of viability with course choices exceeding the DfE recommendation of fifteen. We have shown robust financial plans to the Local Authority (LA) which have not, so far, been contested, we maintain that these demonstrate financial viability and sustainability.

We were therefore disappointed and perplexed, as we are sure you will be, to read in the EDP that the LA is issuing Neatherd with a 'warning notice' regarding the financial viability of our plans. Whilst the Assistant Director, Gordon Boyd, has sent a letter noting his concerns, we have not received a 'notice'. The Director of Children's Services, Michael Rosen, was due to send a letter to us yesterday but this failed to materialise and his PA was unaware of it when we made contact.

The Assistant Director's letter is based on little evidence and that which he has used is already dated, despite his facilitator, finance officer and 14-19 Education advisor having been in a two hour meeting with governors, senior staff, the bursar and me at the start of last week. We robustly and clearly answered the concerns regarding viability and at no point were we challenged further. In addition, we have been accused of a lack of detailed planning; this is blatantly incorrect – the LA has been shown curriculum documents and financial models. You will know that I have a very strong senior team and excellent governors. The school has a long standing record of good OFSTED judgements and, by the LA's own financial risk assessment measures, has an excellent record for financial management.

We also contest the LA's view that public money is not being well spent in our intentions to have our own Sixth Form. We fundamentally disagree with this assertion given that we have won back students who were not going to continue with their studies in Dereham. To offer these students places in the College, as the EDP article suggests, is a nonsense. They, like our staff and governors are not happy to support continued mediocrity in a college-style provision. They share our aspiration for an outstanding education within a school environment with staff who know them extremely well; staff who have incredible skill and talent. We do not understand how the LA can argue with this.

We are further perplexed that the LA and the Chair of the Education Committee, James Joyce, suggest that the Educational Funding Agency (EFA) and the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) share their concerns. Having spoken to the EFA myself, no concern was conveyed. The RSC has also not shared his concerns with the school. We are following up these assertions to understand them further.

We feel frustrated, given the low level of educational achievement in Norfolk that our school, with its record of good provision, should have been singled out for additional scrutiny in the manner of a 'notice'. We are further disappointed in the LA's method of communication, finding out via the press and without any prior communication from the Director or his Assistant Director that the 'notice' may be issued and them making clear what we had to provide in order to prevent this happening. In fact, the Assistant Director has had no communication directly with me or my Chair of Governors since his initial meeting in early March. The Director was asked for a meeting over a month ago and had only managed to find an opportunity this Friday. Even now, with the LA having issued the 'notice', we have been unable to secure an emergency meeting. We feel that the LA's behaviour has been unfair and unprofessional; that they are only willing to find fault rather than support us in creating a first class education that our students demand and deserve.

In looking at why we have been issued with this notice the only possible category is that governors have not demonstrated sufficient detail and robustness in financial planning. This is incorrect but we will, of course, make clear the security of our plans again; we have nothing to hide.

To reiterate, we do have robust and fully conceived plans based on successful student outcomes and careful financial management. We will take every opportunity to defend our case, making direct representations to the DfE, regarding the LA's conduct. We are also seeking independent legal advice to that end. Our students rightly deserve the very best education we can offer and we know can be delivered here at Neatherd. My staff, governors and I are united in defending our reputation and our right to provide our students with the very best.

Yours

Peter Devonish

Headteacher

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