Protests fail to prevent merger of top schools

Andrew Robinson and James Reed, Education Correspondent TWO of Yorkshire's leading independent schools are pressing ahead with plans to merge, it was revealed yesterday.

The headteachers of the all-boys Leeds Grammar School and Leeds Girls High confirmed the decision of both governing bodies to bring them together under proposals first aired six months ago.

Parents opposed to the merger yesterday repeated their claim it made no educational sense and that there was a "hidden agenda" behind the move to cut the debt of the boys' school.

But both schools rejected the accusation and insisted the new school would increase the opportunities available to pupils.

The merger is due to be completed by 2007 and will see children taught separately between 11 and 16 but together at younger ages and in the sixth form.

The provisional name of the new school is The Leeds School, although that and the design of a new uniform are still under discussion.

Children already at the schools approaching exams when the merger takes place may continue to be taught under existing arrangements. Of the 1,500 families with children at the schools, less than one per cent wrote to oppose the move.

Leeds Grammar headteacher Dr Mark Bailey said: "We have been surprised that the numbers writing have been relatively small but we are grateful that overall the responses we have received, and overwhelmingly the verbal feedback has been positive."

The schools claim the merger will help them to attract high-quality staff and offer more subjects and more activities in better facilities.

Leeds Girls High headteacher Sue Fishburn said: "There are subjects the high school does to A-level that the grammar school doesn't and vice versa.

"Because we have that critical mass we have the potential to offer a range of subjects and perhaps the International Baccalaureate."

Under the proposals, the Leeds Girls High site, in Headingley Lane, will be home to the nursery, pre-prep and prep schools while the recently built Alwoodley Gates site used by Leeds Grammar will house the new senior school.

The schools believe that separating the sexes for lessons between 11 and 16 allows them to combine the benefits of single-sex education in the adolescent years and the social aspects of co-education.

Last night one parent of children at the girls' school, who has opposed the merger, said: "LGHS has failed to provide an educational argument which holds benefits for girls – all studies point to benefits for boys.

"The girls' school is in a sound financial position and is still selective, producing excellent results so why change it? Arguments regarding staff recruitment and demographics do not stand up to close scrutiny."

The parent, who asked to remain anonymous, was critical of the consultation process and claimed more parents opposed the merger than the schools had admitted.

He said the heads dominated the time allocated at their presentation evenings for the plan and there was no "plan B".