A MAJOR education shake-up is on the cards in Somerset in a bid to make Crewkerne and Ilminster’s schools more sustainable.

Wadham School in Crewkerne is an upper school, which currently accepts people between the ages of 13 and 18 (school Year 9 to upper sixth).

The school operates as part of a three-tier schooling system – comprising first, middle and upper schools – rather than the more widespread two-tier system of primary and secondary.

Discussions are now taking place about switching to a two-tier system from 2020, which the school argues would make it more viable and allow it to tackle its debt to Somerset County Council.

Maiden Beech Academy, one of the middle schools which would be affected by such a move, has said that fairer funding across the board would provide a better solution.

Wadham’s future was raised by Stuart Shepherd, the then Chair of Governors for Wadham, at a meeting of the council’s cabinet in Taunton on September 12.

He said: “Wadham will continue to make substantial losses even with all the cuts that have been made over the last few years. I repeat what I have said for some time: the school is not sustainable as a 13-18 upper school.

“Any decision on the provision of education will be controversial, but if Years 7 and 8 pupils from Ilminster and Crewkerne were sent to Wadham, it would make the school viable and enable it over time to pay back its deficit to the county council.”

The council has confirmed the school is currently in debt to the tune of around £390,000.


Matthew Gardner, headteacher of Wadham

Matthew Gardner, headteacher at Wadham, said the school’s financial situation was reflective of a national lack of funding for education.

He said: “Government claims that school funding has been protected are disingenuous.

“In cash terms the funding for a school, for the same number of 11- to 16-year-old pupils has not changed. In other words, no account is taken of inflation, increased employer costs or any pay rise.

“The Institute for Fiscal Studies states in a recent report that schools have experienced an eight per cent cut in funding since 2010. Sixth form funding has been cut by 25 per cent.”

Mr Gardner and his Maiden Beech counterpart Carl Winch were among 2,000 head teachers who delivered a letter to Downing Street on Friday (September 28), calling for fairer school funding as part of the nation-wide ‘Worth Less’ campaign.

He said that the way in which funding was currently allocated put “small upper schools” like his under pressure – a situation worsened by a “demographic dip” in the numbers of young people over the last four or five years.

This position is supported by the National Middle Schools Forum, which contends that middle and upper schools both received lower funding per pupil than secondary schools.

Mr Gardner said the move to a two-tier system is supported by both the council and the Diocese of Bath and Wells (Wadham being a Church of England school).

He said: “There are approximately 800 11- to 16-year-olds in this area. For Somerset, that would be a school slightly above the average size.

“In most areas of the country, these pupils would go to one school. Spreading them over three schools – Wadham School, Maiden Beech Academy and Swanmead Community School – is inherently inefficient.

“The local authority has been clear that a secondary school is needed in the Crewkerne/ Ilminster area. This is Wadham School.

“The future of Wadham is secure. The Diocese of Bath and Wales supports a move to a two-tier system in this area.

“We are encouraged that we have been given assurances that the aim is still to implement this change for September 2020.”

Mr Gardner stressed admissions to the sixth form would continue as normal until such a decision was taken.

Because Maiden Beech Academy is funded directly by the DfE, rather than via the county council, any decision to change its age ranges would have be taken with the approval of the regional schools commissioner.

Head teacher Carl Winch argued that fair funding across the board is needed instead of switching to a two-tier system.

He said: “Rather than reorganising a system which appears to be educationally successful, a review of school funding at both national and local levels is necessary – this is the crux of the problem.

“Ironically, reorganisation as an activity is costly in itself, both financially and emotionally, and it is unclear how the council plans to fund the process.

“Appropriate and fair funding would allow the three-tier system of two middle and one upper school to be a viable option, as it has been for the past 50 years.

“School demographic figures produced by the council show that around 100 children within the Ilminster area attend schools outside of their designated catchment area.

"This has a detrimental impact on the budgets of Greenfylde First School, Swanmead Community School, and then Wadham School.

“This needs to be further investigated and understood; a change in school age range will not necessarily resolve this issue.”

Mr Winch said that his school would be open to changing its age range to becoming a secondary school, if the council chose not to maintain the current system.

He said that it was “unrealistic and unreasonable” to implement any changes in September 2020, and said that “no change” should be an option when the public are formally consulted.

He added: “There is a real danger that perceived short-term gains could mask long term issues if this is not managed carefully.

“I believe closing an academy would not be politically viable, especially as the government has invested £1.9M of capital funding into the school site during the last four years.

“Our governors believe that middle schools provide children with the best of both worlds – primary-age children benefit from specialist teaching in dedicated teaching areas, two years ahead of their peers in a primary/  secondary setting.

“Parents are aware of the proposal to change the system to go two-tier but they, like the schools involved, have not been aware of the potential impact on individual institutions.

“It is imperative that detailed plans are released before the consultation, so all stakeholders fully understand the implications of any proposed changes, including cost implications. We would expect that ‘no change’ is included as one of the options for consultation.”

Swanmead Community School was approached for comment but did not respond before the deadline.

Parents will be able to take part in an official consultation on the planned shift to two-tier once the council publishes its formal proposals.

The council declined to speculate on the potential impact for individual schools, stating that any proposal would have to deliver long-term sustainability in light of funding levels and demographic changes.

A spokesperson said: “It’s our intention to carry out a full review of the school structure in this area to make sure that it is sustainable in the long term, in light of the demographic changes and national funding reforms.

“We have been discussing this with head teachers and governing bodies for some time, and it is a complicated process that needs to involve both academies and maintained schools, as well as the Regional School Commissioner.

“September 2020 has been discussed as the earliest time that any change could be put in place, and we remain committed to achieving that time-scale.

“We intend to continue discussions in the coming months with all concerned and there would be consultation when some formal proposals come forward.”