Pressure remains on high school rebuild

The Duchess's High School, Alnwick.
The Duchess's High School, Alnwick.

Campaigners have vowed to keep the pressure on for a new high school in Alnwick, after the town made it onto the Priority School Building Programme.

The Duchess’s Community High School was one of 261 with buildings in poor condition which are to be rebuilt, following an announcement by Education Secretary Michael Gove on Thursday.

Land for the project has already been earmarked by the Duke of Northumberland’s Estates at Greensfield, on the southern edge of town.

And there are also hopes that the news could spell a radical reshaping of education in the Alnwick catchment area.

The Aln Community Schools Federation – which includes the high school, Lindisfarne and the Duke’s middle schools and Alnwick South First School – voted in March to pursue academy status, with a desire to establish an ‘all-ages learning campus’ on the Greensfield site.

The coming weeks and months, however, will be crucial. Local MP, Sir Alan Beith, said: “The next important step is to find out the details from the Department for Education, which we should have by the end of next week, and keep up the pressure to make sure we get out funding in place and work starting as quickly as possible.

“I am talking to the county council and the Northumberland Estates about getting the lease for the Greensfield site completed as this should be possible to complete soon.

“I am also talking to the county council about how we can make the best use of this opportunity.”

Alnwick’s ward councillor, Gordon Castle, said: “It would be completely unacceptable if we were made to wait even longer, now that funding has finally been agreed. There are still a lot of questions which have to be answered, including what kind of funding package will be put together.

“The most desirable option for most people I have spoken to is for a first and middle school element to be included to create a single, all-age learning campus. Hopefully we will have an answer sooner rather than later.”

Duchess’s High headteacher Maurice Hall said: “We’re waiting for a further announcement by the Government in the next week and it is only really then that we will get a sense of where we stand.

“We are hopeful that it will be sooner rather than later, but it all depends where we stand in the pecking order of the schools selected and whether the DfE is capable of doing them all in one go.”

Colin Barnes, planning director at Northumberland Estates, said: “Discussions are at the preliminary stages with all interested parties and we are still keen to enable this to happen, but we are awaiting further details to emerge from the Department for Education.”