15th July 2015
Dear Parents and Carers
We are writing to tell you about a major potential development for Chesterton.
The local authority has decided to build a new 11-16 secondary school, in the Darwin Green development in North West Cambridge, to accommodate the substantial population growth in that area. They are inviting applications from interested parties to sponsor (i.e. establish and run) the new school. The governors have agreed that we should apply to sponsor the new school. Although this will not affect any students currently at Chesterton, the rest of this letter gives more background, explains our reasoning, and describes the process.
What are the local authority’s plans?
The new school will have 6 forms of entry; i.e. an annual cohort of 180. It will open in 2020 at the earliest with Year 7 only, growing by one cohort each year, so that after five years it will be in steady state with 900 pupils.
The Darwin Green Site is situated between Huntingdon Road and Histon Road and was previously known as the NIAB site, adjacent to roads that are currently in the Chesterton catchment area. Here is a map. The school will primarily serve both the Darwin Development and the University North West Cambridge Development on the other side of Huntingdon Road.
We are the closest secondary school to the new school site; North Cambridge Academy is just about the same, with Impington next closest, with the A14 in between.
Here is a link to full details of the planned new school, and application process, and general DfE guidance on what it means to be an academy sponsor
Why have we decided to apply?
Chesterton is a community school that strives to serve not only 11-16 year olds, but also the whole population of our local area. Helping a new school to get off to a flying start, with the same ethos and vision as Chesterton, would be extremely beneficial to the establishment of the new community in North West Cambridge.
However, we would not consider applying if we felt it would harm Chesterton. On the contrary, we believe that a close partnership between two schools, physically close to each other, offers real advantages to both schools. For example:
- A broader curriculum. The larger number of students across the two sites will mean that we can employ specialist teachers for minority subjects, e.g. ancient history, Greek, critical thinking.
- Richer extra-curricular opportunities, in sports, music, again made viable by a larger scale.
- Shared sports and other facilities; e.g. a climbing wall at Chesterton, squash courts at the new school, dance studio at the new school and a MUGA at Chesterton.
- Economies of scale: shared data systems, facilities, training, catering, IT support, finance. This would release funds for other aspects of school life.
- Staff. We would be a more attractive institution for staff recruitment, offering a wider range of roles and leadership opportunities for prospective candidates. Similarly we would more easily be able to retain our best staff, because there would be more opportunity for their professional development.
The wider context is important too. Everything the government is doing is aimed at encouraging, and perhaps ultimately requiring, good schools to collaborate and support weaker ones. We are already unusual within Cambridge in being a stand-alone academy with no formal alliances with
other schools. If this is the direction, it might well be better to jump first; and partnership with a brand-new school next door has many more advantages for Chesterton than being asked to help a struggling school far away.
We have absolutely no interest in empire building, or in size for its own sake. Yes, this is a major development, and will take senior leadership time to envision and plan. However, the government provides start-up funding to pay for some of this effort. With that support, we believe that the senior leadership team and governors have the capacity and will to take up this challenge and that Chesterton has the strength in depth that will mean that there will be no loss of focus on excellence and realising potential at Chesterton.
What has happened so far, and what is next?
We first heard about this on 11 June. Since then we have met with local authority officials, and visited the site, concluding with a full governors meeting on 9 July where we reached a decision to apply. Applications are due by the 31 August. There will subsequently be short-listing, a public presentation by short-listed applicants and a decision early in 2016.
We do not know who else will apply; perhaps some local schools or multi-academy trusts, and perhaps some national academy chains.
The timescale for an application is very compressed, but the timescale for planning the new school is very long: it would not open until 2020 at the earliest, and would not be full until 2025, a decade from now. So if we are successful there will be plenty of time for discussion and consultation.
We will keep you informed. Meanwhile, if you have questions, please get in touch with one of us (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com).
Lucy Scott, Simon Peyton Jones