Proposal to close school sparks final call to arms

St Cuthbert's RC First School in Amble.
St Cuthbert's RC First School in Amble.

Furious parents have vowed to fight until the very end to prevent the controversial closure of a north Northumberland first school.

The last-ditch bid comes after the governing body of Amble’s St Cuthbert’s RC First School recommended shutting the site from the end of August, following a disastrous Ofsted report.

The proposal was made last week despite a public consultation, which found the majority of people were not in favour of closure. Now the school’s fate is in the hands of Northumberland County Council when the final decision will be made by the Policy Board on Tuesday, April 29.

But dismayed parents haven’t given up just yet and are desperate for the school to be given a stay of execution.

One parent, who did not want to be named, said: “We are in last-stand territory. Objections and comments on the proposal can be made to the county council before midnight on Wednesday, April 9, so we are urging as many people as possible to make submissions before the deadline – the sooner the better.”

The closure proposal comes after the school was placed in special measures by Ofsted in October. Governors state that current Government policy dictates that schools in this category can either shut or become a sponsored academy.

However, any company or partner school which took on responsibility as a sponsor would need assurances that the necessary finance was there.

Currently, the school has 38 pupils, but by September next year that is set to drop to just over 20 in a school with a capacity of 120. This would impact on funding, which is based almost entirely on pupil numbers.

Chairman of governors Paul Claridge said that, on the back of the consultation period and following discussions with the Roman Catholic Diocese, closure was the only realistic proposal.

He said the decision had been made with a heavy heart and added: “Every option has been looked at, I can assure you, even before the issue of closure came up we were looking at how to improve pupil numbers and the school itself.

“I understand how the parents feel, but it seems like we are at the point of no return.”

But parents aren’t happy and have accused the decision-makers of lacking fight and giving up too easily.

They want the Diocese to provide the finance and have criticised the proposal to close the only Roman Catholic school in the town. They believe new housing approved for Amble could help pupil numbers.

Despite the Ofsted report, one parent said: “There have been massive improvements in 2013. I am sure pupil numbers would increase if people knew the school was to be saved and that the attainment levels were good. Not one parent withdrew their child from St Cuthbert’s after the Ofsted report and not one parent has moved their child since the consultation began.

“We want a stay of execution, of 18 months or two years. If it doesn’t work, then at least we can say we tried.”

Parent Rachel McGarvey collected 167 signatures in three days calling for other options to be considered, while the results of the consultation showed that 94 per cent of those who responded weren’t in favour of closure.

Parents have been told that there are enough spaces in other first schools in Amble, while practising Catholics would be able to send their children to St Paul’s in Alnwick and receive funding for transport.

But one parent raised concerns about the impact that larger class sizes could have.

The Gazette contacted the Diocese for a comment, but did not receive one.

To make representations to the county council, email Lorraine.Fife@northumber