Merger fears at Blackthorns Community Primary Academy: Lindfield parents concerned after ‘joint leadership’ announcement

Parents of children at Blackthorns Community Primary Academy in Lindfield are worried that their school will be merged with Lindfield Primary Academy after it was announced that both schools will have the same principal next year.

In a letter to parents on December 14 The University of Brighton Academies Trust (UoBAT) announced that Lindfield Primary Academy principal Mr Marcus Still would become permanent lead principal of both Blackthorns and Lindfield from January 1.

Parents fear that a potential merger could create a ‘megaschool’, which would be wrong for the village.

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But UoBAT, which runs both schools, has insisted that a joint leadership arrangement ‘does not represent a merger nor imply a consolidation of both schools’.

Blackthorns Community Primary Academy in Lindfield. Photo: Steve Robards, SR2112211.

Jo Bryant, 43, who has a child at Blackthorns, said one reason parents choose Blackthorns is because it is small and ‘close-knit’ with a unique character.

“It has a very good SEN (Special Educational Needs) facility too,” she said.

“We’re not against Lindfield as a school, it’s just a completely different school,” Jo added, saying it is larger with many more students.

Jo said parents are frustrated because the sudden announcement was made days after the end of Project Enrichment. This project aimed to strengthen educational and operational provision at both schools and help them work together more closely with shared facilities and clubs.

Lindfield Primary Academy. Photo: Steve Robards, SR2112212.

Jo said she and others grew concerned that the project’s aim was to merge the schools.

But she said it had invited feedback from parents, the board of governors and staff, and when UoBAT announced in a letter that it had closed everyone felt they had been listened to.

However, a couple of days later parents received the letter saying that acting principal Mrs Sarah Neller would step down and that Lindfield’s principal would take over Blackthorns as well.

“We are now left essentially without a proper head because we’re two campus schools,” said Jo.

“The feeling at Blackthorns is extremely angry,” she said, adding that Sarah Neller is popular and knows every child by name. “We feel that we can’t trust The Trust that owns our school,” she said.

“Everyone’s extremely upset because we just feel like we have no control over the education of our children,” she added, saying that this ‘merger of leadership’ still feels like a merger of schools.

In an open letter to parents, non-staff members of the Blackthorns Community Primary Academy Local Board said: “We do not feel that the Trust have been transparent about what they are trying to achieve.”

They said the board had been ‘repeatedly told’ that the project would not result in a merger and added: “We share your feelings of anxiety and betrayal.”

A spokesperson for UoBAT, said the trust acknowledged parents’ and carers’ concerns.

They said: “We wish to emphasise that our decision to undertake project ‘Enrichment’ during the autumn term and the recent leadership announcement are not linked.

“All decisions made are informed and implemented in the best interests of our current and future pupils and their families, our staff and academies, and to ensure we continue to develop and strengthen our learning provision.”

“Introducing a joint leadership arrangement is an approach that is not uncommon within other schools and academies,” the spokesperson said.

They added that Project Enrichment had ‘significant community engagement’ and said its key drivers included strengthening the curriculum offer, developing new specialist roles and looking into the possible expansion of specialist support for children with special educational needs.

“We are confident project ‘Enrichment’ has delivered a set of recommendations that will add real benefits to our pupils and staff,” they said.

The spokesperson added that all of UoBAT’s academies are either Ofsted Good or Outstanding and that the trust is ‘incredibly proud’ of the achievements of both schools.

“Since joining the Trust, we have ensured that they have improved from two ‘Good’ schools to both being graded as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted,” they said.