Head on to meet the schools challenge

PUBLISHED: 12:20 16 February 2006 | UPDATED: 09:40 06 May 2010

Collenswood School is closing

Collenswood School is closing

Following last week s recommendation that Collenswood School in Stevenage should close NICOLA BASTENDORFF spoke to Barnwell head Richard Westergreen-Thorne about the challenge facing him and the proposed merger of the two schools RICHARD Westergreen-Thor

Richard Westergreen-Thorne

Following last week's recommendation that Collenswood School in Stevenage should close NICOLA BASTENDORFF spoke to Barnwell head Richard Westergreen-Thorne about the challenge facing him and the proposed merger of the two schools

RICHARD Westergreen-Thorne has a major challenge in front of him.

When Collenswood School in Stevenage closes in August as expected, all eyes will be on him as he has the unenviable task of defying the critics and making the expanded Barnwell School work.

Mr Westergreen-Thorne, 54, lives in Bedfordshire with his wife and two sons aged 14 and 19. He has been headteacher of Barnwell School for 10 years.

His first challenge is to win over concerned Collenswood parents, who he has agreed to meet, who worry Barnwell is not strong enough to support even more pupils.

Barnwell is under the national average but last month it was named as the 41st most improved school in the country.

GCSE results have improved over the last four years from 20 per cent achieving five A* to C grades in 2002 compared with 47 per cent in 2005.

It is an improvement Mr Westergreen-Thorne puts down to the hard work of teachers and staff.

Collenswood parents are also concerned that their children will be classed as "second class citizens" with all investments being put into the Barnwell site (to be known as West Campus) which he said could not be further from the truth.

In fact the head has plans to invest thousands of pounds in a new information technology suite at the Collenswood site (to be known as East Campus) with interactive white boards and new computers.

That is just one of the ways in which Collenswood pupils will benefit from merging with Barnwell.

They will also benefit from high quality teaching, access to more subject options and by having more money spent on them (Barnwell gets more money because of its business and enterprise status).

He said it is not for him to judge what went wrong at Collenswood but he did say the school got into a cycle where good quality teachers did not want to come to a struggling school on special measures.

A great deal has been made of the possibility of selling the Collenswood land to building developers, but Mr Westergreen-Thorne said he needs the site for at least two years.

Many Collenswood staff and parents have said they have felt let down by the local education authority but Mr Westergreen-Thorne still has confidence in school advisers when it comes to Barnwell.

He said: "I didn't seek it [involvement in the closure of Collenswood and the expansion of Barnwell] and I wasn't part of the original discussions."

But he said he agreed to help out once he was told about the benefits an expanded school would have for both Collenswood and Barnwell students.

On a practical note Mr Westergreen-Thorne said pupils will all wear a new, slightly amended Barnwell uniform which will now feature the business and enterprise status. He said it was important for students to wear the same uniform from the beginning so there are "no inconsistencies or differences".

He said: "If we are to make a success of this we should take pride in our school."

He has promised the students will not walk between sites, preferring that teachers move between the schools. He will spend an equal amount of time on each site and there will be one deputy per site and another who will work between the sites and whose job it will be to pull things together.

In September the new Year 7 pupils will all be taught on the Barnwell site. The other years will remain on their original sites.

Mr Westergreen-Thorne said: "I am committed to making this work and I am up for the challenge.

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