Goodbye to the Isle of Flight

Middle school plan could trigger staff exodus

THE ISLE of Wight is in serious danger of losing teachers if its plans to create schools serving 14- to 19-year-olds go ahead, unions fear. The move, which might seem forward-thinking in the light of Government plans to offer a coherent set of qualifications for the age group, could prompt a mass exodus of teaching staff.

The Isle of Wight is one of the last bastions of the three-tier school system. In 2009, it plans to extend its 16 middle schools by an extra year.

Pupils would attend from Year 5 to Year 9, instead of Year 8, making the schools unique in England.

Council leaders say it would improve continuity for key stage 3 and make it easier to offer the International Baccalaureate and new vocational diplomas. But there are concerns that the island's upper school teachers will not want to switch to jobs in middle schools as they will not be able to teach GCSE and A-level classes. And mainland teachers might be put off moving for fear of hampering their career prospects.

Headteachers said recruitment was already difficult because of the distance from the mainland, its image as a retirement destination plus a poor academic record. Last year's GCSE results were 11 per cent below the English average.

Schools have reported that some teachers have already applied for jobs on the mainland. Chris Rogers, acting head at Carisbrooke high in Newport, warned: "The changes will create another massive barrier to recruitment."

Dave Porter, island secretary for the NASUWT teachers' union, said:

"Teachers don't want to be in this system in two years' time. They don't want their own children in it either."

Parents complain that they do not want their young children in the same school as 14-year-olds.

Patrick Joyce, a council cabinet member for education, admitted the changes could put off some staff, but said the island's existing system was "abysmal".

"If we can show improvements, it will make it a more attractive place to come and work," he said.

The island has been locked in a long debate over its retention of middle schools, which are popular with parents. All but 22 English authorities have scrapped them, but the island's Conservative council won the last election with a promise to retain them.

The middle school extension is part of wider proposals for 14-19 education on the island. Options include forming a trust out of the five upper schools and the further education college, with one set of governors and a single superhead. This would lead to the closure of one or two upper schools.

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