Debate on future of Northumberland schools kicks off

Protestors who want to save Seahouses Middle School
Protestors who want to save Seahouses Middle School

A number of concerns were voiced and questions raised as the consultation on a proposed reshuffle of schools in Alnwick and the surrounding area really got going this evening.

Lindisfarne Middle School, which could be closed by September under one of the options, hosted the first in a series of meetings at all of the affected schools to explain the proposals and share views.

However, parents may be forgiven for going home more unsure than before as at times it really felt that more questions were raised than answered.

Northumberland County Council’s director of education and skills, Andrew Johnson, talked through the various options and fielded questions, ensuring that he made clear that the local authority was not responsible for calling for this consultation.

“One of the very, very important things to say tonight is that one of the options is no change,” he said. “The other thing is that we have identified three options, but there may be an option four, five or six.”

He did later point out that 17 schools out of the 18 involved in the Alnwick Partnership did not think that doing nothing was an option though.

Lalage Bosanquet, chairman of governors for the Aln Federation (Lindisfarne, the Duke’s and the Duchess’s), also spoke, explaining that the governing body wanted to merge the two middle schools to ‘make a new, stronger and more sustainable school’, albeit in September 2016, a year later than in the consultation document.

Another issue raised was that the two-tier option of primary and secondary schools is, in this case, three-tier by another name as Year 7 and 8 pupils would be based at the Lindisfarne site, not the rebuilt high school at Greensfield.

Duchess’s Community High School headteacher Maurice Hall said that the Government’s desire to be seen to be saving money meant the maximum capacity of the new school will be 1,115 pupils. Any money to expand the new school would therefore not come from national government, he said.

There were also concerns raised about the quality of teaching, facilities and viability of first schools if they became primary schools.

At the end of last year, Northumberland County Council published proposals for the restructuring of schools in north Northumberland, following requests from the Alnwick Partnership, which is made up of 10 community schools with an added eight church-funded schools as voluntary members.

The county council’s report sets out three models for the future, with one being no change to the current arrangement of schools in the area.

Another would see the amalgamation of the Duke’s and Lindisfarne Middle Schools on the Lindisfarne site from September 2015, following the closure of Lindisfarne Middle School in August.

The third option would see the closure of Lindisfarne, the Duke’s and Seahouses Middle Schools in August 2016; the extension of the age ranges of Swansfield Park, Branton, Hipsburn, Seahouses, Shilbottle and Swarland First Schools to primary schools for age three/four to 11; and the extension of the age range of the Duchess’s Community High School to an 11-18 secondary school from September 2016.

However, if this two-tier option was brought in, the new high school at Greensfield would still only house students from Year 9 upwards with Year 7 and 8 pupils still based at the Lindisfarne Middle Site, but as part of a secondary school.

The governing bodies of Ellingham CE VA First School, Embleton Vincent Edward’s CE First School, Felton CE First School, Longhoughton CE First School, St Paul’s RC VA First School, St Paul’s RC VA Middle School, St Michael’s CE First School and Whittingham CE First School are carrying out their own consultations.

At the county council’s policy board meeting in December, it was agreed to launch the consultation, but with an amendment to include the schools in Belford and Wooler.

This followed concerns raised by the respective ward councillors, John Woodman and Anthony Murray, who pointed out that a large proportion of children from the middle schools in both communities go to Alnwick for high school, not Berwick, and that therefore any changes ‘would have a substantial knock-on impact’.

To read and respond to the school consultation document on the county council website, follow this link.

For full story and all the latest on the school consultation, see next Thursday’s Northumberland Gazette.