Village up in arms over merger

Graeme Paton & Warwick Mansell

A village in Tony Blair's constituency could to lose its only state secondary, a thriving comprehensive, under proposals to replace it with an academy sited three miles away.

Parents from the Prime Minister's Sedgefield constituency will join thousands protesting tomorrow over plans to close Hurworth school, in Hurworth-on-Tees outside Darlington, and open an academy.

Under plans suggested by the Government to Darlington council, Hurworth and nearby Eastbourne comprehensive would be merged and re-open as an academy on a new site on the edge of Darlington.

Neither school is classed by inspectors as failing. Hurworth's value-added results at GCSE placed it in the top 1 per cent of schools last year; 79 per cent of pupils gained five good GCSEs this summer.

Eastbourne came out of special measures 12 months ago and improved from 20 per cent of pupils getting five A*-C GCSEs in 2002 to 33 per cent this summer under a federation with Hurworth.

Many parents in the village, Hurworth-on-Tees, argue that the move will change the character of its secondary from a small, rural comprehensive to a larger school in an urban area.

Jill Russell, who has a son and a daughter at Hurworth school, stood as an independent candidate at a recent council by-election in the village to highlight opposition. She took 23 per cent of the vote in the poll won by the Liberal Democrats. The Labour candidate picked up just 45 votes - 3.6 per cent of the electorate.

She said: "The academy proposals are a recipe for disaster."

The proposals will fuel claims that cash intended for the academies programme is being used to replace good, rather than "failing", schools.

Darlington announced plans last year to merge the two schools and rebuild them under the Government's Building Schools for the Future programme.

However, a council spokesman said the Government had then told it that funds were more likely to come through the academies programme.

Dean Judson, Hurworth's head, said the school had originally dismissed the idea of becoming an academy, as it believed it was too successful to qualify.

He would not comment in detail on the academy plans but he said the merger move had come about because Hurworth was housed in dilapidated buildings and wanted to expand to meet parental demand.

The TES understands that only 150 of the school's 650 pupils come from Hurworth. The rest are drawn from two other villages and Darlington.

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Graeme Paton & Warwick Mansell

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