Excited Dunstable children were proud to wear new Barnfield uniforms on their first day at a school they thought was now an academy.
But parents of the new starters say they were then startled to hear on the grapevine that Brewers Hill Middle was not yet an academy, after all.
Anger followed on Friday, October 4, with the school’s bombshell news that the Barnfield Federation had pulled out as its academy sponsor.
One parent said families felt “misled” and there were parents who chose Brewers Hill because they believed it would be an academy at the start of the autumn term.
The parent said: “They are very angry. They thought it was an academy and now it’s not an academy and nobody really knows what’s going on. The children have been walking around in a pretend school uniform, for a school that doesn’t exist and will never exist, proudly displaying the logo of this fictitious school.”
But executive councillor Mark Versallion, of Central Beds Council, insisted: “There was absolutely no attempt to mislead parents here.”
He said: “The school announced the news that Barnfield had withdrawn its sponsorship as soon as it received official confirmation of their decision. Both the school and the council worked in good faith with Barnfield on the academy conversion proposals and there was never any intention to unsettle parents or pupils.”
Meanwhile, change lies ahead at Brewers Hill at the end of this year, when head Anita Harvey moves on.
Barnfield chief executive Helen Mayhew said: “Despite our best efforts, it was not possible for us to be able to reach an agreement with the local authority that would create sufficient space to rebuild the school on the existing site.
“The land issues caused unavoidable delays in the academy conversion process and, regrettably, have led to the school being behind in the age range changes being applied across the town.”
She said Barnfield was disappointed that the aim to build “another thriving and vibrant Barnfield school in Dunstable” could not be realised in this case.
“We are providing a full refund on Barnfield uniform purchased up until October 4, 2013 and will communicate to parents how they can claim their money back by the end of this week. Refunds will be issued as soon as possible thereafter,” she said. Barnfield plans to hold a meeting with parents in the next fortnight.
Cllr Versallion said: “This is a worrying time and I want to reassure parents that the council is working with the governors of Brewers Hill to do the best by the children.
“The council has worked in good faith with the school and Barnfield Federation over the past two years on their plans to convert the school to an academy, so it is extremely regrettable that Barnfield have decided to withdraw as the sponsor.
“As Dunstable residents will know, the pattern of education in the town is changing, driven by the choice of local schools and their parents. This has already resulted in a significant move towards a two-tier system of primary/secondary, from the three-tier system of lower/middle/upper. The changes have been led by schools, supported by overwhelming parental consent.
“We will be working with Brewers Hill School and Barnfield to look at all future possible options for the school and will be publishing the options as soon as possible. CBC will keep parents, staff and others updated as soon as possible as we go forward post-Barnfield.
“Anyone who has questions, concerns, or who wants to find out more about the different options available, should get in touch with CBC on 0300 300 8037.”