A historic independent school that counts comic actor Stan Laurel among its alumni is to become the first to merge with a state primary and become a government-funded academy.
The King's School in Tynemouth, a member of the elite Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) of private schools, said the move had become necessary as its pound;9,990 annual fees had become "a growing issue" for many of its parents.
The school will merge with the nearby Priory Primary School in September 2013 as an all-through academy, serving children aged 4 to 18. The primary school received "outstanding" ratings in all but one category in its last inspection report.
The move reflects government drives to create more all-through academies and promote greater interaction between the state and private sector. Former Labour schools minister Lord Adonis, the architect of the academies programme, also renewed calls this week for all private schools to sponsor academies. (See Review, left.)
The Tynemouth merger comes hot on the heels of news that a series of prestigious private schools have been granted state-funded status as the recession grinds on. Liverpool College and Bradford Girls' Grammar have announced that they will go state funded from next September. Batley Grammar in Yorkshire made the switch in September 2011.
The new all-through academy in Tynemouth will be sponsored and operated by Woodard Academies Trust and eventually cater for 1,425 pupils.
John Evans, chairman of governors at The King's School, said: "[King's] governors have recognised that the payment of school fees represents a growing issue for many parents. By assuming academy status and ceasing to charge fees, we will enhance and strengthen our ties with the community we serve."
Jan Richardson, chairman of the Woodard Academies Trust, which will run the new academy, said that the "groundbreaking model" of merging high- performing state and private schools would provide "greater opportunities for all pupils".
Geoff Ogle, chairman of governors at Priory School, said the merger and move to academy status had been the culmination of "intensive and in-depth discussions" over the past nine months. "Both schools' governing bodies and headteachers are working. to develop a new school that responds to the needs and aspirations of the local community," he said.
David Levin, headmaster of the City of London School for Boys and vice- chairman of the HMC, has spearheaded a drive to get private schools to form closer links with state primaries and became chair of governors at the Bentworth Academy in Hammersmith, West London, this month. He said the merger in Tynemouth could work "extremely well", adding that it would allow the Woodard Trust to create a balance of the state and private sectors in the schools that it ran.
News of the merger comes weeks after it was revealed in TES that the HMC is increasingly concerned about pupil numbers and finances at a number of its schools. Current membership criteria state that members should lead schools that have at least 325 pupils, although some are below that level.
Llandovery College, a leading Welsh independent school that hit the headlines after it was revealed that it was around pound;4 million in debt, has left the HMC and applied for membership of the Society of Heads. The school relaunched this September with 302 pupils, after a rescue package was agreed.
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Diagnosed in adult life as dyslexic, the Happy Days star has spent many years campaigning on literacy and education in the US and the UK. He is also a celebrated children's writer, co-authoring the Hank Zipzer series. www.tes.co.ukwebchat
On Thursday, children's author and poet Michael Rosen will also take part in a videochat, discussing his new book Fantastic Mr Dahl, the first authorised biography of Roald Dahl. See page 43 for a review. www.tes.co.ukrosen.
Original headline: Fees pressure pushes elite into arms of the state