How do we stop the student brain drain?

Editorial image.
Editorial image.

Leading figures in Daventry have called for a “new start” to stop the drain of talented students to secondary schools outside the town.

Leader of Daventry District Council (DDC), Chris Millar, and MP for Daventry, Chris Heaton-Harris, have both raised concerns about the numbers of parents choosing to educate their children at schools in neighbouring towns or counties because of a perceived lack of confidence in the existing secondary education at the Parker E-ACT Academy and Danetre and Southbrook Learning Village.

Cllr Millar said:“I want to make one thing clear, this is not about bashing the schools as that won’t help anyone.

“But it is clear that we seem to often have one or other of the schools in the district having problems.”

Cllr Millar said a “lack of consistency” had damaged the reputations of the academies in the eyes of parents, some of whom go on to send their children to other schools outside the district.

Once students leave the area, Cllr Millar said they are less likely to return, costing the district some of its best students and throwing secondary education into a “downward cycle”.

He said: “The trouble is that parents look at local schools when they go to live in an area and it is very important to have good schools as part of the package.

“We have a lot of employment in Daventry. The University Technical College is great and the college is progressing well. But the bit that is missing is the schools.

“It is not our responsibility at the district council, but the success of the schools is part of our overall agenda for growth in Daventry.”

Mr Millar said it was up to the heads at Parker E-ACT and DSLV to turn things around but change won’t come overnight. He said: “We need the new head at Parker and the new head at DSLV, when he or she is appointed, to lead the charge from the top down to improve performance and convince parents their schools will provide their children with a suitable education.”

Cllr Millar will be meeting Matthew Golby, county council cabinet member for learning skills and education, to discuss the state of Daventry schools on January 21.

Meanwhile, MP Chris Heaton-Harris said he understands the need for parents to find the best education possible for their children but is keen to see more parents choosing to stay local.

He said: “We have record low levels of unemployment and the economy is doing well; this problem has been going on for a long time. We need more people to study locally and stay locally.”

Mr Heaton-Harris added it is important to emphasise the schools were just one small part of the complex workings of the local economy. He said: “They are like two parts of a complex scientific equation, get them right and the rest will fall into place.”

Local schools have faced an uphill struggle in recent years, with Parker E-ACT being placed in special measures in following an inspection in January last year. However, a recent follow up inspection concluded the academy was making “reasonable progress” towards the lifting of the order.

DSLV has been hit by disappointing results at GCSE, though its fledgling sixth form is continuing to improve since its creation in 2011.

But Parker head Andrew Mackereth said many Northamptonshire schools were facing challenges from conditions outside their control.

He said: “I would say that in many respects, thinking, practice, finance and investment in the county lags behind other areas. Because there isn’t the investment, I find it really difficult to appoint teachers. I find it difficult to attract people who want to come and work here. It isn’t because of the special measures, its about employment.

“While I was told pre-appointment that people don’t want to work as teachers in Daventry, head teachers in other areas in Northamptonshire have told me they also find it really challenging.

“I’m so fortunate with the quality of the English and maths teachers I have, because if I had significant vacancies I would have real trouble filling those posts.”

Angie Lakey, acting principal at DSLV, added the district once faced a historical disadvantage to Wawickshire as it lacked the grammar school tradition and, until recent years, had no secondary school sixth form provision.

She added that once DSLV’s new sixth form centre becomes established more parents will choose to educate their children in Daventry.

She added: “I just think Daventry could be a brilliant place. It has three secondary schools, as well as a college.

“I don’t know why parents would go anywhere else.”