Radical shake-up plan for St Albans secondary school

A RADICAL new proposal to ease the primary and secondary school situation in St Albans will see Francis Bacon become an “all-through” school for children of all ages from next September.

Francis Bacon, in Drakes Drive, St Albans, came out of special measures last year but has failed to attract sufficient pupils to continue as a viable school and has over 120 places vacant in September.

Talks have been going on about changing the status of the school since January and were announced in a statement from County Hall on Tuesday.

Now it is about to become one of only around 25 “all-through” schools in the country which will take children from as young as three – and even younger if a nursery gets off the ground – until they finish sixth form.

The proposal, which came from head of Francis Bacon School, Jacqui Verrall, was agreed by the board of governors on Monday night and revealed to pupils yesterday.

Ms Verrall said: “We were all looking at what we could do next after we came out of special measures and people were on a high and achievement increased. We needed a vision to take the school further.

“This is good for the children and the community. This is a really strong and positive way forward in education.”

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She explained that the primary end of the school would have two forms of entry which should help to ease the shortage of places in the St Albans city centre area.

The children would then automatically feed through to the secondary stage at the school or could opt to go elsewhere at the age of 11.

But she believes that there is a lot to be said for keeping continuity because many children who have sat Key Stages One and Two have to forget everything they have learned at primary school when they make the transition to secondary which would be overcome if they were at an “all through” school.

Francis Bacon will be renamed and a head teacher and management team will be appointed to run the entire school through all the age groups. Ms Verrall said the job would have to be advertised nationally so she could not comment on her own position.

And while there would be some new building at the school, she added: “We have the space and additionally we are aware of the fact that there is a shortage of primary places and this is about putting together a range of needs with a very positive outcome.”

There is a possibility that another St Albans secondary school could become involved in the running of the new school. Chair of governors, Carole Connelly, explained. “The idea is that the authority would look for a sponsor so the school works in a trust and it could well be another school in St Albans but that has not yet been formalised. Trust partnerships have been used to enhance all sorts of partnerships and increase collaboration.”

She added: “The governing body want to support this proposal and work with the authority in the forthcoming year. We have worked very hard to make this a more popular school and although it is progressing well and the staff and pupils are excellent, it has not resulted in increased admissions.”

Richard Thake, the county council’s executive member for education and skills, said: “We know that our proposals will increase uncertainty but we are confident that they are in the best interests of Francis Bacon’s current pupils and education in St Albans as a whole.” He confirmed that formal consultation would begin in September.

And St Albans MP Anne Main said she had come to the conclusion some time ago that the only way forward was for Francis Bacon to close in its current form and for a new school with a completely new focus and a brighter future to be reformed in its place. She added: “There is no doubt there is a need for a good school to be placed at this location to serve local parents.”