In 1988, Northants LEA proposed a re-organisation of secondary education; John Lea was to become a tertiary college. These proposals did not go through, but public confidence in the future of the school as an 11-18 comprehensive was undermined. This resulted in a small and academically weak intake for several years. Just as the school was recovering, with a growing roll, the first intake following the re-organisation proposals obtained unusually low GCSE results, and a neighbouring school that had benefited from gaining many of our more academic pupils obtained particularly good results.
Around this time, all the other town schools became grant maintained. Ironically, although John Lea's GCSE results have steadily improved over the past three years, the overall balance of our intake has worked against us in trying to compete for students through enrolment.
A small intake in 1995 led to further rumours that the school was to close. Although our finances have been well-managed and we have never had a deficit budget, we have had to reduce staffing and reluctantly stop teaching small and hence uneconomic A-level classes, further undermining confidence in the school. These factors resulted in only 14 parents choosing the school for September, making it financially and therefore educationally unviable in the medium term.
Although more secondary places will be needed in the future, the LMS formula apparently made it difficult for the LEA to provide assistance and so a reluctant decision was made to close John Lea in two years' time, despite overwhelming support for the school from current and past parents and students, and the local community.
John Lea is not and has never been a bad school. Like all schools, it has strengths and weaknesses. We have built on our strengths and worked on our weakness during my first year as head. My biggest regret is that now there will not be the opportunity to see that work bear fruit. However, like Jack Wilce, I am proud to be head of John Lea, and intend to make sure the closure is a dignified process for all concerned, including as Jack Wilce would have done, "countering any denigration".
STEVE RICHARDSON John Lea School Doddington Road Wellingborough Northants