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UPDATED: Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) have this afternoon (Thursday) announced that they intend to amalgamate the troubled Sandown Bay Academy with Ryde Academy by September 2018.

Senior officials from AET arrived on the Island this morning ahead of a meeting with staff at Sandown Bay Academy, which is currently taking place (15:15).

The plans will be subject to a full consultation among stakeholders including staff and families of students at both schools, which will be launched later this month. The final decision will then rest with Ministers and will not be taken until after the general election.

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In a statement issued this afternoon, AET have said:

‘This fall in enrolment has a direct impact on schools’ finances, when they are already struggling in a difficult funding climate nationally for education. It is further exacerbated in the case of Sandown Bay, which has been running a significant deficit. In this situation, it has been becoming increasingly difficult for the school to fund the teachers and the educational resources needed in order to provide the education we would all want for the students.

“AET has taken a long, hard look at this situation and at the future projected numbers for both Sandown Bay and Ryde Academies. We believe that merger offers the best option all round, and that out of these two schools we can create one really great one. We want to create an academy that is recognised as the best educational provision on the island.

“We appreciate that the planned merger will involve a large amount of upheaval for all concerned. We will do all we can to mitigate this, and the consultation process and the transition year will help us to ensure the process is as smooth as possible”.

If approved, the Principal of Ryde Academy, Joy Ballard, will oversee the transition between the 2 schools. She will work closely on the transition planning with Sandown Bay Principal Claire Charlemagne, who recently announced her resignation and will step down at the end of August.

Further details on the plan to merge will be provided when the formal consultation is launched later in May. However, many aspects of the plan will only be finalised once the findings of the consultation are known, and can influence the arrangements to be put in place.

At the end of March the Isle of Wight Council’s Lead Member for Children’s Services, Chris Whitehouse, demanded answers about funding for Sandown Bay Academy and suggested AET should be replaced.

UPDATE @ 17:00 – Labour’s General Election candidate Julian Critchley has criticised the proposals.

Mr Critchley, a former teacher and governor of a secondary school, whose children attend Ryde Academy, has said AET is letting the Island’s children down and their proposals were more likely to put Ryde students at risk than to help Sandown students.

Mr Critchley said:

“This is an outrageous development. Quite clearly Sandown Bay’s troubles can be laid at the door of AET: particularly their desire to strip money from the school to redeploy elsewhere in their company. Now all they seem to propose is to spread those cuts across two schools.”

“My children attend Ryde Academy, and I am furious at the suggestion that AET should treat them as some sort of pawns to be moved across their corporate chess board.”

“The answer to Sandown Bay Academy’s issues is not to impose their problems on Ryde Academy, but to fix the problems in Sandown. Clearly, that is something which AET are incapable of doing, as their main interest in Sandown appears to be seeing how much money they can extract from it.”

“This is where the Tory school privatisation programme has left us, with our schools taken out of local control, and decisions which impact on our children taken in some anonymous corporate office miles away.”

“Labour recently announced that it would give Local Authorities the right to take back control of their schools from these absentee corporations, and I cannot think of a better place to start than here on the Isle of Wight. We need to take back control of our schools.”

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