Declining pupil numbers prompt decision to close Blackheath Bluecoat school

Published Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Greenwich Council has agreed to close Blackheath Bluecoat Church of England Secondary School from 2014.

Councillors heard that a sustained decline in pupil numbers means there is no realistic prospect of reversing a serious and increasing financial deficit in the school’s budget.

A carefully planned transition process will ensure that children currently at the school experience as little disruption to their education as possible. The closure timetable has been modified to reflect comments from parents and from the school governing body. The phasing of the closure over the next three years will result in fewer Blackheath Bluecoat pupils needing to transfer to other schools, and will minimise any disruption to the education of those who do move.

Cllr Jackie Smith, Greenwich Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said, "It is never an easy decision to close a school. The Council recognises the strong loyalty that children, staff and parents feel towards the school and this was clear in the responses to our consultation.

"The school has made some improvements but, despite this, it has lost the confidence of parents with children at local Church of England primary schools. It has not succeeded in attracting more pupils, and in fact, admission numbers are still falling.

"The Council has a responsibility to ensure that our schools across the borough have  strong finances, and it is clear to us that there is no realistic prospect of the situation at Blackheath Bluecoat improving.

"Rather than letting the situation drift any further we have therefore decided that closing the school on a phased basis is the better course of action for the long-term benefit of children and young people in the borough.

"We have listened closely to the views of parents, students, staff and governors and have agreed to modify the timetable for closure. This will give the best chance for students to complete their current phase of education, and ensure that there is as little disruption as possible to students’ education.

"We will be putting plenty of support into the school to ensure that pupils can continue with their current course of study, and that they and their parents are then supported in making the transfer to other schools when the time comes."

At its meeting last night (Tuesday 17 January) the Council’s Cabinet heard that:

  • Pupil numbers at the school have fallen consistently, decreasing by a third over the past five years. The number of pupils aged 11-15 has fallen from 767 in May 2005 to 481 in September 2011. This means the school is little more than half full (53% of the 900-pupil capacity).
  • Despite the high level of popularity of the seven Church of England primary schools in the borough, from which approximately 200 pupils transfer to secondary school each year, very few parents of those schools choose to send their pupils to Blackheath Bluecoat (just 8 pupils in 2011).
  • The school has accumulated a very substantial financial deficit – which is worsening year by year – largely due to the decline in pupil numbers.
  • The school has underperformed over an extended period with outcomes for pupils at 16 and 19 still below the borough average and national average. Improvements in the past two years have been achieved while spending at a higher level per pupil than for other schools.

The school will stop taking new admissions from this year, and will close at the end of the summer term 2014. Pupils now in Year 8 will transfer to alternative schools at the end of the 2012/13 school year – a year before the school closes – to avoid disrupting their GCSE / Key Stage 4 studies.

This phased transition reflects comments and suggestions by the school’s Governing Body and the Southwark Diocesan Board of Education, and will ensure that pupils experience as little disruption as possible to their education. No pupils will need to change school at the mid-point of any Key Stage. All pupils will be able to complete their Key Stage 3 studies (Years 7-9) at Blackheath Bluecoat, and all pupils currently taking or preparing for exam courses at Blackheath Bluecoat will be able to complete those courses at the school.


Media information:
Greenwich Council Communications
Andrew Stern                020 8921 5043

Note to editors
In common with all other decisions of the Cabinet, this decision is subject to the Council’s call-in procedures.

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