The message from Seahouses was clear at a busy and, at times, heated consultation meeting tonight: ‘Hands off our middle school’.
This evening’s event, which attracted well over 100 people, was one in a series of public meetings being held in schools in the Alnwick Partnership – made up of 10 community schools with an added eight church-funded schools as voluntary members – about proposals to change the education system.
The community in Seahouses has already been vocal in its opposition to any change which would see the loss of its middle school and the the middle school’s chairman of governors, Carol Fawcus, made it clear that they were against a two-tier system (of primary and secondary schools).
And once again, as at last Wednesday’s meeting at Lindisfarne Middle School in Alnwick, there seemed to be distrust of Northumberland County Council’s motives and role, despite director of education and skills Andrew Johnson insisting the request for consultation came from the schools themselves.
“From my point of view, no change is a genuine option,” he said. “You can believe me or not. All I can say is this is not a done deal, there is a genuine option A, a genuine option B and there’s a very genuine option C (no change).”
One thing that did seem to be unanimous though was support from parents for the status quo of Seahouses First School and Seahouses Middle School feeding into the Duchess’s Community High School in Alnwick, with one parent warning that shutting the middle school would ‘take a massive part of the soul out of our village’. “It’s not Alnwick here, it’s Seahouses,” she added.
Mr Johnson did offer some further food for thought as context for the consultation as he referenced the general poor performance of Northumberland’s schools. Nationally, the county is ranked 146th of 147 local authorities for its rate of improvement and was criticised by Ofsted following a string of inspections in October 2013.
However, he added: “There’s no magic solution to that issue, but it’s something everyone in Northumberland needs to be aware of. When I got this job three months ago, all people wanted to talk about was two-tier or three-tier. From my point of view, until we can get that off the agenda, it makes it very difficult to engage with schools.”
For more on the schools consultation, see tomorrow’s and next Thursday’s Northumberland Gazette.