The total closure of the Sandown Bay Academy site as part of the proposed merger with Ryde Academy now seems more likely following a meeting between Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) and the Isle of Wight Council today (Thursday).

Officials from the Trust met with Councillors earlier on to discuss the future of the school. As a result of that meeting, a statement has been issued by AET which drops several hints to indicate the merger would lead to 1 overall school – Ryde Academy. That said, no finalised plans have yet been released and a consultation period is to begin before half-term.

In today’s detailed statement, AET has laid out the reasoning behind the move stating that pupil numbers have halved in just 5 years and just £100,000 remains in the reserve funds.

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It’s said that the merger would result in better educational outcomes for children and their families and a financially more secure school.

A spokesperson for AET has said:

The Sandown Bay Academy isn’t viable

Over the last 5 years, the school has halved in size and income. This has led to overspend and years of deficits. This isn’t sustainable.

  • In 2012 student numbers were at 2084, and in 2016/17 they stand at 1157 – so enrolment has almost halved in only 5 years.
  • Therefore income, which is tied to student numbers, has likewise nearly halved from £12m in 2012/13 to £7m this year. This means there has been a reduction of close to £5m per annum in income.
  • The halving of income impacts on the school and its pupils very directly. It means less money to spend on everything, but especially teaching, which – rightly – is the largest area of spend.
  • In order to keep the finances balanced, AET, working with the school, has tried to reduce all costs while keeping teaching quality. Staff cuts and restructuring, although seen as only the last resort, have been unavoidable.
  • In spite of the reductions made to date, we have not managed to halve costs. So 3 of the last 5 years have seen deficits ranging from £200,000 to £400,000 per annum.  Over the 5 years, £3.8m of annualised savings have been achieved, but these are still significantly less than the £5m drop in income.
  • As a result the reserves of the school are now close to being exhausted, standing at just over £100,000.
  • Looking forward, even if we saved yet another £1.6m over the next 2 years (which would have to include £1.2m in staff costs and yet another round of potential job cuts of around 25 staff), we would still be in deficit in 3 years’ time, and unviable.

This is an island-wide problem

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The central problem of reduced enrolments is an island-wide problem.

  • There are too many school places for the actual number of school children on the island. Typically in recent years, and with predictions for the future, these amount to between 3,000 and 5,000 unfilled places.  This results in a situation of too many places, over a period of more than a decade.
  • Almost all secondary schools on the island have significant excess school places, often between 25% and 50%.
  • The following schools and colleges all currently have unfilled capacity: Carisbrooke, Cowes Enterprise, Isle of Wight Studio, Medina, Ryde Academy and the Island Free School.  In some cases more than a third of places are unfilled, and Sandown used to be twice as full as it is today.  There is only one large secondary school – Christ the King – that is even close to capacity, while a smaller school, The Priory Independent School is also close to full.  This issue of capacity was highlighted by the recent proposal to close Carisbrooke, and the problem has not gone away.
  • The recent addition of new schools have added more school places, and this hasn’t helped the overall issue for existing schools striving to be viable.
  • Even if the numbers of school children grow, there will still be large excess capacity. Actual student numbers for the 8 secondary schools over the last 3 years have declined by 10% between 2013 and 2016.  (Source:  LA SCAP for Department for Education.)

Strengthening educational outcomes

Amalgamating Sandown Bay with Ryde Academy will strengthen educational outcomes for current and future students. Sandown Bay’s performance – in Ofsted inspections, GCSE attainment scores and Progress 8 scores – has been below average for the island, whereas Ryde’s have now moved above average and continue to improve.

  • In English and Maths GCSEs, the A*-C score for Ryde was 54%, as against Sandown Bay’s 46%.
  • In recent Ofsted inspections, a large proportion of Isle of Wight secondary schools have been in ‘Special Measures’ (including Sandown Bay, Carisbrooke and Cowes Enterprise College). Sandown Bay and Carisbrooke were most recently evaluated as ‘Requires Improvement’.  Ryde Academy, however, has successfully moved its Ofsted rating from ‘Requires Improvement’ to ‘Good’, and is one of only 2 large secondary schools on the island to have the ‘Good’ rating.

Academies Enterprise Trust are set to engage in a formal consultation period, to be launched before half-term. It is said officials are seeking the help of the Isle of Wight Council with regard to areas of their responsibility, including transport provision and the continuation of The Cove autism unit, as well as the athletics facilities.

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The spokesperson concluded:

“We appreciate there will be many questions and views, and we will be guided by the principles of doing the best both for current and future children, and providing them with a better education in stronger schools”.

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