Another good private school wants to join the state system. Why is Labour trying to stop it?

The battle over the King's School in Tynemouth shows just how deeply confused Labour has become about education reform

13 July 2013

9:00 AM

13 July 2013

9:00 AM

When my parents came to choose a secondary school, they were naturally keen to send little Sebastian to the best possible place — regardless of whether it was state or independent. Their first choice was Emmanuel College in Gateshead, where we lived — one of Kenneth Baker’s original city technology colleges and inspiration for Labour’s academy programme. The next was the fee-paying King’s School in Tynemouth. Emmanuel declined to offer me a place and King’s turned out to be too expensive. I ended up at a respectable, above-average comprehensive — so I was luckier than most. King’s would have been superb; it’s one of best schools in the north-east. But it is only open to those who can afford it.

Until now. Last September, the King’s School announced that it wanted to move into the state sector under the academy programme, joining 21 other private schools that have — in effect — volunteered to be nationalised. To those in my family’s situation, it is a godsend: a £10,000-a-year education available to all. The formula for excellence is due to be expanded too. King’s plans to merge with the Priory primary school next door to create an academy, known as Kings Priory School, that would take children from primary to sixth-form in one of the poorest areas of the country. The plan is widely supported by parents of pupils at both schools and by the local community, and ought to fit anyone’s definition of social -justice.

Labour and local bureaucrats, however, have reacted with fury. They were already upset to see that most secondary schools, given the choice, opted to leave council control; now they have to look on as former private schools compete for state pupils. The breadth and speed of Michael Gove’s revolution has left Labour flummoxed and fractured. The row over Kings Priory School is a perfect case in point.

The Labour-run North Tyneside council is a bastion of resistance to the Baker/Blair/Gove reforms, and seems to be primarily interested in protecting its own territory. Allowing the King’s School to open to state pupils would, they say, upset the ‘feeder’ system that shepherds pupils in primaries into designated secondaries. Giving parents a choice upsets this careful plan.

The opposition is being led by Ian Grayson, a National Union of Teachers official who doubles as the North Tyneside council member responsible for education. He believes that removing the Priory school from council control could ‘destabilise’ the entire education system in the borough. Giving parents choice, he told me, could ‘see a significant drop in numbers elsewhere in the borough and we have to plan for that’. A third of pupils might choose schools other than the ones the council has designated for them. To Mr Grayson, this is not something to celebrate, but a problem.

Councillor Grayson has been trying to thwart King’s School by demanding a formal investigation into the effect the new academy would have on the borough. This is how school wars are fought in England: the opponents demand a bureaucratic assessment, hoping that a judicial review will delay the process long enough to stop the new school opening — in this case in September.

Even taken at face value, Grayson’s arguments make no sense. North Tyneside council is building three new secondary schools and one new primary, so his ‘balance’ will be upset anyway. It appears Grayson and his comrades loathe the idea of not being in control. The real issue is that the unreformed left don’t want any new schools while places in old, inadequate schools remain unfilled.

The pro-reform left are almost as angry as the Tories about this. Andrew Adonis, who was Blair’s schools minister, has long urged private schools to open academies or to join the state system. Last year he hailed the King’s School merger as one of the Cameron government’s more impressive education achievements, arguing that Tyneside ‘badly needs more high-quality school places’. To him, what’s happening in Tynemouth epitomises what Labour should be about.

So where does this leave Stephen Twigg, Labour’s current education spokesman? He likes to think of himself as progressive, but he sided with the unions last month when he declared that it was a ‘scandal’ that pupils were being offered the chance to go to academies when there were places to fill in council-run schools. His officials say he shares the council’s concern about the King’s School’s ambitions, given that there is a ‘surplus of places in the area’. He claims to like academies in theory — but it seems in practice he doesn’t.

And this is exactly why Labour’s education policy is such a car crash. Ever since the coalition took office and passed the Academies Act, the party that once talked of ‘education, education, education’ has tied itself in ideological knots.  For three years, Ed Miliband has spoken about theories of education. But his party is defined by the choices it makes, and who it backs, which is why test cases like Kings Priory School are so very revealing.

The Conservatives, locally and nationally, are firmly on the side of the parents and the teachers. Labour, locally and nationally, are on the side of the status quo – to the dismay of reformers like Andrew Adonis.

My sources in the education department tell me that Michael Gove has made his decision: the school merger will go ahead and Kings Priory School will be created. This should have been Labour’s victory. In the days when it won elections, Labour tried to be on the side of progress — and confronted the statism of the hard left. But fighting the vested interests has proved too exhausting.

It’s great news that families like mine will now have access to the best education the north-east can offer. But it’s bad news for Labour that they will have a Conservative Education Secretary to thank.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Sebastian Payne is the online editor of The Spectator.

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Show comments
  • Amanda Gadema

    Thank you Sebastian Payne, at last we have an unbiased news report.

    The local press have more than been biased on this local issue by seeking only negative comments from parents and cutting anything positive that parents have said on this merger.

    For too long now we have seen competition stamped out of state schools to be replace with complacency and an ethos of ” it’s OK to be mediocre” children need to be pushed or they will choose to do as little as possible and claim they tried their best. This may be the case but we can always do better, try harder etc. We have to think of our future, do we really want a future nation of underachievers or do we want a nation of winners.

    My three children are looking forward to attending the new school in September. We have 1 child currently at Kings yr 8 and 2 at Priory yrs 3 & 5 . I am not the only parent who has children at both schools. The Kings is an outstanding school which will inevitably make the other high schools in the area pull their socks up.

    The Priory school has too long been under funded by the LA, with toilets still flooding ( only on Monday did this happen again ) leaving the school carpets outside the toilets and classrooms smelling of urine, the have a faulty wiring system for the lights, which can go off at anytime ( Tuesday ) and the temporary porta cabins that were placed in the key stage 1 yard for reception students some 2 decades ago……this is just a small snippet of what the Priory children and teachers have to put up with on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. All due respect to Miss Melbourne and her outstanding group of teachers, which make Priory Primary the outstanding school it is today.

    If the Priory is under funded, how many other schools in the La are under funded?

  • heatherpea

    yes thank you Sebastian. My eldest daughter is in reception at Priory, and the school is an outstanding success thanks to the leadership and dedication of it’s teachers – in other words, despite the LA. It’s great news that the merger has finally been signed off and is supported by the Government. I’m excited about the future prospects for our children and for the community as a whole which has (almost) unanimously come together in support of this initiative.

    It’s just a pitty that the council have been so cynical and manipulative in their objections, which have been timed in a number of instances to cause maximum distress and anxiety to parents.

    Their actions have, in my mind only served one purpose, and that is to alienate me entirely.

  • AllWright

    Hang on. North Tyneside may be a disadvantaged area but Tynemouth itself is a desirable, affluent village. Kings may be paying lip service to welcoming those from disadvantaged backgrounds, but those who benefit will be the ones who’s parents can afford to live in the (relatively) expensive houses or – as sometimes happens – take up short-term lets in the village around about school selection time. Due to the self-selecting nature of the catchment area I seriously doubt that many kids from disadvantaged areas will have the opportunity to attend, instead they will end up at the other (undersubscribed) secondary schools, with less pupils and less funding.

    • Amanda Gadema

      As far as I am aware, this is not “lip service” as the new Kings Priory school will not have a catchment area. This was stated in a letter from The Parliamentary Under Secretary of state for schools, Lord Nash.

      I didn’t know there were any undersubscribed schools in the vicinity of the Kings, my recollection is the 4 high schools surrounding Tynemouth are oversubscribed, with one of them seeing 304 applications in 2012 with only 181 places available at that said school.

      Not all children attending the schools live in Tynemouth.

      • Macca5

        Michael Gove is an idiot. Marden is not oversubscribed. The figure of 304 must have included 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices.
        Disadvantaged children will not attend Kings Priory. They have an oversubscribtion criteria which almost guarantees middle class affluent kids attend.

        • AllWright

          Actually have just looked at last year’s admissions data and the only secondary school which was full was Whitley Bay High. Everyone who put Marden as their first choice got it with places left over. Hardly oversubscribed by any sensible definition.

          • Statsman

            Sorry Reaper,
            Macca5 and AllWright are correct about the admissions at Marden. I believe the data shows they have not been oversubscribed in recent years with every child putting down as ‘1st choice’ gaining entry.
            Incidentally, I believe the 2013 Year 7 entry is only about 135 (normally near to 180), which perhaps shows the impact of the removal of Priory Primary as a feeder.

        • Reaper

          Dear Macca on what factual basis do you make such a sweeping and flawed statement?
          What evidence do you have that “disadvantaged children will not attend Kings Priory”?
          Certainly not on the basis of the approved admission criteria also what makes you think that Marden will suffer? If it is such a good school and centrally situated it will draw in children from other areas of the borough. Looking at the numbers there is one clearly failing school in the borough that needs to get its act together and which has been failing children its children for several years and it is not Marden.

          • Muzungu

            Please tell?

          • Macca5

            I think on the basis of the admission criteria, very few disadvantaged children will attend Kings. The majority will live in Tynemouth, the most affluent area in NT. Then we have siblings and teacher’s children, followed by 10% of musically gifted children (highly likely this will be kids from affluent families who can afford music lessons). The very small number who will be randomly selected are also very probably going to come from the the type of pushy middle class parent who wants a “free” private education. I doubt many from the meadow well estate will be applying!
            I think Kings have very cleverly engineered their admissions criteria.
            Marden will suffer because a third of it’s intake will now go to another school, so it will get a huge reduction in money with immediate effect. This is not fair, healthy competition. There are now 3 secondary schools within a mile radius of each other. Not sure what school you’re referring to as failing, maybe Norham? But do you think it is reasonable to expect those children to travel to the coast every day to go to one of these three schools, they surely need a local school where they live.

          • Reaper

            It isn’t often that your right and this again isn’t one of them. Tynemouth is most definately NOT the most affluent area of N Tyneside and it includes some of the most deprived. The addmissioins policy is not as you choose to portray it but then again you are clearly more concerned with echoing the stand point of the Labour Mayor (a lady with an income in the top 5% of the borough that she represents, who incidently lives in one of the most expensive areas and who was happy to see her family go to Kings but wants to deny this opportunity to other poorer people).
            The myth construicted and oft repeated by the Labour group that Marden will suffer is just that. If Marden is so good it will continue to attract pupils.
            Your choice of Norham as a failing school also discloses that you really know nothing about education in North Tyneside and are just knee jerk commentator who swallows every line that the Labour party put out.
            The children of North Tyneside will all be better off if this change goes through and the only people worse off those who belive that they know best and want to deprive as many children as possible from being properly educated – North tyneside Labour party and the teaching Unions who pay them.

          • Macca5

            I have no interest in how much the mayor earns or where she lives, I’ve said before that this has nothing to do with party politics. All political parties disagreed with this merger from the beginning. My views are my own, I have not read anything from any labour politician stating that Marden will suffer.
            I certainly did not name Norham as a failing school, I asked whether you were, Their admissions are probably the lowest of NT’s secondary schools. It would help if you would name the schools you are referring to instead of being so vague. Maybe you are referring to Monkseaton High, but as this is in the three tier system I think it is irrelevant to this case.
            I hope you are right and all children in NT will benefit, but I suspect a good school will close because of it.

          • Reaper

            Well it takes some doing but Yes you are wrong again if your think that this has nothing to do with party politics. Must try harder as I would write on a report were you one of my pupils.
            Not “all the parties on North Tyneside disagreed with this merger from the beginning” as anyone who bothered to either attend the first council meeting, or read the minutes or even bothered to ask the parties would have found out.
            If you rely on Labour party propaganda for your information and “facts” it is no wonder that you are so regularly wrong.
            I note that you avoid any mention of the current mayor’s previous support of Kings when only fee paying pupils (especially her own family) could go and you don’t even wonder why she has had a complete change now every child on NT can have the chance. Some would call it hypocracy but I would call it blatant politicing.
            This merger will drive up education standards on NT and if any school is not willing drive up its standards for the pupils that it teaches then it desrves to close BUT it won’t happen (it is just the Labour party doing what they do best create a lie, repeat the lie and then attack the lie). There is no independent evidence that Marden will close just a desperate attempt by NT Labour group to try and hang on to their seat in Tynemouth.
            Any attempt by the NT Labour party to take this through the courts will fail and result in massive bills for the taxpayers at both national and local level. If the current Nt administartion really cared about real people then they would think twice.
            I look forward to your next incorrect statement with interest.

          • Macca5

            You seem to want a fight, I don’t. You’re quite right, I have never been to a council meeting, I am going from what I have read in the press and on the Kings Priory Website. However, if you want to talk about political lies and propaganda would you like to comment on Michael Gove’s statement that Marden is oversubscribed? Completely made up fact.
            Why would I mention the mayor’s situation, I think I explained that I don’t care! What I care about it a new school being built in an area which already has a surplus of school places, it doesn’t make sense.

          • Reaper

            Once again you get it glaringly wrong. This is not a “new school being built in the area” it is two existing schools. Your reliance and parroting of what the Labour party put out without checking indicates the extent that you are not concerned with the real truth around this issue but only in opposing the proposal irrespective of the facts.

            From your comments you don’t even appear to know the area, the schools concerned or the impact that the current council’s nakedly political actions lead by a member of the NUT executive actions is having on parents and children who want to go to this school. They have deliberately delayed any action to create maximum disruption and uncertainty in the lives of children as young as 4. This is a group lead by a woman who’s own family went there who now wants to stop others from mor disadvantaged backgrounds having the same experience. This applies to several of the Labour group. I call it hypocracy made even worse by their attempts to cloak their political venom in a false claim of concern for children.
            As for the oversubscribed line there were more children who declared an option to go to Marden than there were places – what is this if not being oversubscribed.
            I am not looking for a fight with you (whoever you may be) but I am concerned to ensure that others reading this story get an accurates view of what is happening.

          • Macca5

            Oh dear. I was speak metaphorically, opening Kings Priory is the equivalent of building a new state secondary school.

            I know the area and the schools extremely well and I wish you would stop telling me who I am getting my thoughts from.

            I am lost for words on your take on the “oversubscribed line”. anyone who believes that you take 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices into account when working out how many pupils want to attend a school really doesn’t have a clue. Marden was undersubscribed by 8 places in 2012.

            I wouldn’t worry, I doubt very much if anyone else is readying this now.

          • Reaper

            I really don’t care whether anyone else is reading this I am only concerned with making sure that I continue to point out your continuous errors, mi- statements and errors. Truth is its own reward.
            As for where you get your views from I just find it odd how close they are to those of the NT Labour stooges.

          • Statsman

            “North Tyneside Labour party and the teaching Unions who pay them”
            The NUT, ATL, NASUWT and other teaching unions are not affiliated (and never have been) to the Labour Party.
            Also, I would remind you that the LA’s approach to King’s and the concerns expressed were largely raised under the Conservative administration of Linda Arkley. The Labour Mayor Norma Redfearn only gained office in May 2013.

          • Statsman

            “Tynemouth is most definately NOT the most affluent area of N Tyneside and it includes some of the most deprived.”

            Err…actually it is one of the most affluent area of North Tyneside. Indeed, one area is deemd amongst the top 1% least deprived in the country!

            Check out the government’s own stats on this.


            You also suggest that Norma Redfearn sends her family to King’s. However, she declares no interest of the this (as required) in LA meetings, so i’m not sure this is true. perhaps you could elaborate?

    • heatherpea

      The following is taken from Lord Nash’s letter with regards to the decision and impact on local schools:

      “The Local Authority has highlighted specifically the impact on Marden High School as the closest secondary school and this concern was reflected in the consultation report produced on 31 March 2013.The Secretary of State considers the impact to be moderate on Marden High School. The Local Authority has said that the impact on Marden High School will be a 35% decline in its expected intake this academic year with a consequent loss of £85k in funding. However this is a popular school and clearly oversubscribed with 304 applications for places in September 2012 against a Pupil Admission Number of 181. The Secretary of State expects that in future years any impact would be spread across a number of schools because of Marden’s popularity and would therefore be less significant than has occurred in this first year.

      WAT does not have a defined catchment area and at the request of the Local Authority WAT included ‘random selection’ in its oversubscription criteria. This has the potential to widen the area from which applications will be made and further reduce the impact on a single school.

      Ofsted reports show that two of the four secondary schools closest to the academy (Marden and Monkseaton) have satisfactory Ofsted ratings. John Spence and StThomas Moore RC are both rated as outstanding. All the schools have achieved above 50% 5A*-C including English and Maths -76% and 73% respectively at StThomas More and Marden High; with 53% and 52% respectively at John Spence and Monkseaton. The 2012 results at the King’s School were 93% 5A*-C including English and Maths. The Secretary of State believes there is a strong argument for increasing quality provision in the area which will have a positive impact on the standards at existing schools.

      • AllWright

        Ok, so i admit I must have been looking at older data, but certainly at Primary level I don’t think anyone got into Priory last year that wasn’t either in the catchment or has a sibling. The ‘new’ primary school may not have a specific catchment area but if it is admitting pupils on distance it’s largely the same area. So then at secondary level, say 70 children transfer automatically, another few get places because they have siblings (after a year or two) another few are musically gifted or have parents who teach at the school. That leaves maybe 30 places at a push to be allocated to kids from outside the area. Wow that is really going to implement social change.
        I don’t blame parents in Tynemouth for being delighted, we all want the best for our children after all. Just let’s not pretend this is about community benefit.

        • heatherpea

          With regards to priory admissions last year, i would Probably suggest that it would be unlikely that there were admissions from outside of the catchment area because despite being the lowest funded primary school within North Tyneside Councils remit, it was still one of the top performing schools.

          I do however genuinely hope that the new school does give opportunity to a wider community AND also push other schools in the area to raise their game. If the school can give a new opportunity to even 30 children, then I think that’s positive.

          But yes, as a Tynemouth resident and parent, I am delighted that Priory will get some investment, and I am delighted that as a village, we won’t lose Kings – I think it would have been pretty bad for the local businesses if it had been forced to close, so I do think it’s beneficial for the whole community in this respect.

  • Helene Graham

    Thank you Sebastian.. at last a positive piece of reporting on this merger.

  • MrVeryAngry

    It’s all bonkers. Just switch all the money from top down bureaucrats and lefty numpties and let it follow the child. De-nationalise all schools so that they can compete for custom. Oh, and scrap the nationalised curriculum. There, 70 years of stupid lefty dogma undone in a flash.

  • franknowzad

    A “no-brainer”. Labour is wholly owned by state sector unions who defend their members utter incompetence and laziness. Poorly educated people are easier to control.

  • MrEdtheTalkingHorse

    For the school to ‘volunteer’ to be nationalised is a disgrace, those involved in such a move would simply be the agents of destruction. The State is not a warm embrace, it is a python strangling the life out of that which it touches. Labour have the right answer for the wrong reasons.

    • Old Fox

      Absolutely right. The notion that for the sake of “outflanking” the Labour party we should applaud any further intrusion of state power into schooling is pure, Cameronian bull. We should be fighting hard and with no quarter for the destruction of the the state comprehensive and its replacement with large scale, specialised, private, independent provision. Government could means test the poor and pick up their tabs. Simple.

  • David Lindsay

    In which part of Gateshead, exactly, did you grow up? It matters.

    And Tynemouth is “one of the poorest areas of the country”? Hardly!

    • Reaper

      Clearly you know nothing about Tynemouth other than a possible drunken stagger along Front Street after a heavy Saturday night. How can you call Knotts Flats and around Grey Street afluent – strong communities yes but never afluent. David, you really need to either brush up your knowledge or if not at least keep your ignorance to yourself.

      • David Lindsay

        I know Tynemouth very well indeed.

        A few years ago after some local elections, I remember some Jolly Hockey Sticks reporter from the BBC walking through the place and exclaiming, “Here we are in a Labour heartland”!

        I thought, are you blind? Too lazy to do even the most basic research? Or just convinced that everyone in “the North” is by definition “working-class”?

        Possibly all three. Like you.

        • Reaper

          The very concept of a Jolly Hockey sticks reporter from the BBC defies belief. I also find your use of the term “blind” as an insult very telling about what sort of person you must be. Clearly whilst you claim to know Tynemouth well ytou clearly don’t live anywhere near it or you would know that there is more to Tynemouth than a hand full of up market streets that you frequent.

  • Old Fox

    But my poor stupid chump, the WON’T have access to “the best education the north east can offer” because that “best” is centrally and inescapably founded upon SELECTION and this revolting little Cameron-Blair compromise – the “academcy” (how Plato would have howled) flinches from that necessary measure – as, it seems, do you. You should be weeping and mourning the loss of your old school to the open maw of the socialist dominated state. Instead, with more than Cameronian complacency you prattle of the “discomfiture” of a few Labour hacks.

  • RAnjeh

    It seems like North Tynside Council are becoming ever so conservative hence their resistance to ‘nationalising’ private schools. I think Stephen Twigg is in favour.

    • Reaper

      As is Lord Adonis who is the prime mover of this merger. But then again as he is not a Trade Union Paymaster and Vote farmer.

      • Statsman

        A lot of people who argue he doesn’t represent grass roots Labour supporters either!!!
        Perhaps it would be better if he crossed the floor and joined the party he truly represents.

  • Muzungu

    “North Tyneside council is building three new secondary schools”.

    Where on earth did you get that information from! If you can’t get the facts right, they’re the easy bit, your opinions are worthless. Piss-poor journalism and, no, there aren’t any new secondary schools being built in North Tyneside.

  • only1hirsty

    What happens to the £5m debt?

  • dolly

    This whole article is utterly ridiculous. To even debate whether local schools will suffer is laughable. The fact is that they will and in fact already are. One particular school is losing a whole feeder school worth of children from its intake this September. And yes, these students may be recruited from other schools and areas but ultimately the future of more than one local school is threatened in both the short and long term. To even debate this fact is bizarre.

    Another troubling issue is the lack of consultation process and the underhand way that Kings announced this to the LEA which in my eyes is sneaky and dishonest. This is not even to mention the fact that they are 5 MILLION pounds in debt which not will have to be paid for by the state….no wonder they were so underhand.

    And don’t even get me started on their selection process when they politely reject those with the most specific needs and send them packing to their local high school. All is NOT well with Kings academy…no wonder some of their core subject staff decided to walk out on the last day leaving them desperately searching for new staff. If my child was attending Kings I would be extremely worried.

    • Reaper

      The total number of children remains the same irrespective of who runs the schools. Marden is a good school and has nothing to worry about (try reading the Head’s letters and statements.
      If you are worried about underhand activity then I suggest that you turn your attention to Councillor Grayson’s activities and the actions of the current council.They are deliberately creating uncertainty into the lives of children as young a 4 for political purposes.
      They should be ashamed.