St Neots colleges to merge

THE management of St Neots Community College will be merged with Longsands College, it was decided yesterday (Tuesday). The cost of getting St Neots Community College back on its feet will be more than a �1million as Cambridgeshire County Council s cabin

THE management of St Neots Community College will be merged with Longsands College, it was decided yesterday (Tuesday).

The cost of getting St Neots Community College back on its feet will be more than a �1million as Cambridgeshire County Council's cabinet has agreed to write off the college's �850,000 deficit (likely to be �1m by the end of the school year) and provide a further �350,000 to set up a 'federation' with Longsands.

The move follows extensive consultation in the town late last year on the future of the community college, which was put into special measures nearly a year ago after a highly critical report from the schools inspectorate.

The county council's preferred route to the future has always been a federation with Longsands - two separate schools, but jointly managed - with the possibility of a third secondary school as the town's population expands rapidly over the coming decades.

The original expectation was that the community college would get �750,000 rescue funding from the National Challenge Trust. After deducting the cash the college has already had and expects to receive next year, that leaves a �377,000 shortfall, to be picked up by Shire Hall.

Yesterday's decision, in spite of vigorous opposition from the Liberal Democrats and an 86-signature petition to reject the federation plan, is aimed at stemming the growing deficit and raising standards and achievement at the community college.

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It means there will be more job losses, following a rapid and radical restructuring of management and staffing to address the community college's recurrent deficit.

There will also be an improvement plan to get the school out of special measures as soon as possible, and action taken to reverse the trend of parents turning their backs on entrusting their children's future to the community college.

Last September, fewer than 60 per cent of eligible parents in the catchment area chose the community college as their first choice of secondary school for their offspring. This year that figure is down to just 28 per cent of the places available for the September intake, with just 66 families choosing the community college.

By contrast, Longsands is over-subscribed by 10 per cent.

Opposition to the merger said the plan should be rejected because it risks the future improvement of Longsands and fails to consider other options for change management at SNCC. They also believe the Longsands governing body and senior management have no experience dealing with schools in special measures, and claimed that the merger fails to recognise fully the different characteristics and performance of both the geographic catchment areas of the two colleges and the feeder primary schools.

But the council's hope is that, with both schools managed by a new governing body from the next academic year, not just the community college but Longsands too will achieve greater things.

The county council stressed, however, that, although teachers would take classes in both schools, Longsands and the community college would not coalesce into a single 2,500-pupil school with two campuses.

Longsands principal Rob Whatmough is expected to be a strong contender to lead the town's secondary education into its new era.

The decision will require an endorsement of the full council when it meets next month.

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