Steyning Grammar School vows to retain 400-year heritage as it joins academy trust

Steyning Grammar School has vowed to retain its ‘unique and complex’ heritage after joining an academy trust.

Friday, 22nd January 2021, 10:58 am

The 400-year-old school became the ninth member of Bohunt Education Trust in December after a divisive process.

Co-headteacher Natasha Nicol said academisation puts SGS in a much stronger position, gaining the benefits of a ‘bigger family’ without sacrificing its identity.

“We are rooted in tradition, but we need to evolve as well,” said Natasha.

Interim executive headteacher Mark Marande and SGS co-headteachers Noel Kennedy and Natasha Nicol

“We’re joining a community of schools and becoming a bigger family, to push our school forward and give students opportunities we couldn’t have offered them on our own.”

The school has retained its uniform, logo, name and ‘all the things that establish us as a school’, Natasha said, including preserving its history after the sale of the Tudor era Church Street site.

A September move of the sixth form to The Towers convent is still going ahead.

According to Natasha, the opportunity to collaborate with eight other schools to pool resources and ideas was the main driver behind academisation.

That partnership has already borne fruit in preparations for mass Covid testing and techniques for delivering home working.

SGS students can now also access a melting pot of thousands of other children who they can join in academic and sporting competitions, on trips, and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme.

But collaboration is a two-way street and Natasha, as well as interim executive headteacher Mark Marande, were both quick to stress SGS will bring plenty to the table.

The school is ‘far ahead’ with its ethos of Learning Character, Natasha said, a culture that looks to develop pupils socially and emotionally as well as academically.

Bohunt will also be tapping into a ‘unique and complex’ organisation, said Natasha, with its split-site boarding bringing pupils from all over the world.

“We bring something very, very different,” she said.

Mark, brought in by Bohunt to help with the transition, added SGS was a ‘bastion of the community’.

He said there was an ‘awful lot to learn’ particularly from its sixth form and the intricacies of caring for a child 24 hours a day.

While the school has been behind academisation since it was first mooted, the process was not always smooth sailing.

Opposed by the NEU, a petition to stop the process received more than 360 signatures. Critics accused SGS of ‘cloak and dagger’ tactics, trying to force the move without a proper consultation process, and selling to stakeholders as a ‘done deal’.

Both Natasha and Mark insisted the consultation met all regulatory guidelines and the criticisms merely ‘affirmed the passion and commitment people have for our school’.

The pair insisted all teachers would be subject to the same rigorous recruitment and follow the national curriculum.

From SGS the message is clear – academisation is an opportunity for the school to evolve as an essential cog in a larger machine.