Has two-tier education been scuppered again?

An artist's impression by AHR Architects submitted with the planning application for the new Duchess's Community High School.
An artist's impression by AHR Architects submitted with the planning application for the new Duchess's Community High School.
  • Prospect of a split-site secondary school ‘unacceptable’
  • Merged middle schools remains a possibility, but more time needed
  • Council has said consultation will be ‘open and transparent’
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The prospect of a two-tier education system for north Northumberland looks set to be rejected again, due to the prospect of a split school site.

With the consultation on a reorganisation of the structure of schools in Alnwick and the surrounding area drawing to a close, one of the key governing bodies has made its response.

The Aln Federation is made up of three Alnwick schools – the Duchess’s Community High School, the Duke’s Middle School and Lindisfarne Middle School.

And in a response shared with parents and staff, the governors have said that the high school becoming a secondary school, but with Years 9 to 13 on the new Greensfield site and Years 7 and 8 on the Lindisfarne site, would be ‘unacceptable’.

The Labour administration at Northumberland County Council declared at the outset that this was a genuine consultation, with no predetermined outcomes.

If the governors responsible for the high school are opposed to a two-tier system, of primary and secondary schools, on a split site then it seems unlikely that this could be imposed by the local authority, which has limited powers in this era of academies anyway.

Protesters who want to save Seahouses Middle School. Picture by Jane Coltman

Protesters who want to save Seahouses Middle School. Picture by Jane Coltman

The news will come as a relief to those fighting to save their village middle schools further afield, such as in Seahouses, where there were fears that a decision would be taken in Alnwick to their detriment.

The other option in the consultation – other than no change – was to merge the Duke’s and Lindisfarne Middle Schools.

This is still on the table, but the timescale is almost certain to slip.

At last week’s meeting of Northumberland County Council, the policy-board member responsible for children’s services, Robert Arckless, said that due to the amount of information to process from the consultation, the timescale may need to change.

Any change to the structure of the Alnwick Partnership is now in the hands of the county council

Lalage Bosanquet, chairman of governors for Aln Federation

The county council consulted on a merger from September this year, despite the governing body wanting to look at it for September 2016.

In its response, the governors have said that they could support a single, separate consultation on a detailed proposal for a merged middle school for September 2016, subject to the council providing more detailed information.

However, the decision on whether to continue thinking about merging the two middle schools depends on whether there will be a switch from a three-tier system to a two-tier system.

The governors are agreed that if the county council’s consultation favours a two-tier system, the council must explore every option to enlarge the accommodation at the new high-school site as part of the current building programme.

It is their view that any decision on the reorganisation of the Alnwick Partnership should be put on hold until there is a clear statement from Northumberland County Council about what proposals they have to accommodate all students across Years 7 to 13 on one site, if the change from three-tier to two-tier education is pursued.

Chairman of Governors Lalage Bosanquet said: “As governors, we have been listening carefully to what our staff, parents and students have been telling us they think is important to ensure we provide the best education to young people who come into our schools.

“Governors have taken part in consultation meetings with parents and the wider community, organised by Northumberland County Council, at the three schools in our Federation and also at other schools across the Alnwick area.

“It has been very helpful to us to hear from so many people who want to make sure education across the Alnwick area continues to improve.

“We have also discussed all the questions put to us by the county council in the consultation and considered the implications carefully before agreeing the response we have submitted today. Any change to the structure of the Alnwick Partnership is now in the hands of the county council.”

Nonetheless, it appears the thorny issue of another split site after the high school is rebuilt at Greensfield may prove too large an obstacle for two-tier.

It was raised consistently at the consultation meetings that the new high school was designed to abolish the current, unsatisfactory, split-site situation and so would render a switch to two-tier pointless.

At one of the meetings, 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.