Final approval for two-tier education in Alnwick Partnership

Latest news from the Northumberland Gazette.
Latest news from the Northumberland Gazette.

The final approval has today been given to the switch to a two-tier system of primary and secondary schools in Alnwick and the surrounding areas.

It brings to an end a process of consultation and decision-making on education in the Alnwick Partnership which started in November 2014.

Northumberland County Council's cabinet unanimously gave the green light to the finalised proposals at its meeting this morning, sparking efforts to ensure that the necessary changes and building work take place to fit in with the schedule.

The first stage will see the partnership's 13 first schools convert to primary schools from September this year, ie, the start of the next academic year. The changes will also lead to the closure of four middle schools, including Seahouses, and the extension of the age range at Alnwick's high school.

Opening the debate this morning, Coun Robert Arckless, the county council's cabinet member for children's services, said: "The important thing to remember is the process was initiated by the schools themselves. There has been a very thorough process of consultation over a long period and there appears to have developed a strong consensus in favour of the proposals now put forward.

"This is the final stage in a legal process in which we will make a decision on taking the proposals forward. I would like to thank the officers, who have put a huge amount of work into this, and the governing bodies and staff teams who have helped us to reach this decision."

He also highlighted that there had been seven formal responses from schools to the publication of the statutory notice and all of them were in favour of the proposals. Representatives from Swansfield Park and Hipsburn First Schools spoke at the meeting, confirming their support and praising the 'robust' consultation process.

The council's deputy chief executive, Daljit Lally, also referenced the extensive consultation, which has led to the 'best available option', while underlining hopes that these changes and the capital investment which goes with them 'will lead to improved standards across the system'.

Coun Paul Kelly asked if the momentum in support of Branton and Embleton first schools, which had been earmarked for closure but are now to stay open as primary schools, had continued, ensuring a future for both.

Coun Arckless said: "This process is not the end of the journey, it's the beginning. All of the new primary schools will need support. I'm confident the two schools mentioned will be able to meet the challenges." He also reiterated a plea he previously made in November, saying: "The most important way parents can show commitment to a local school is to send their children there."

At the county council's family and children's services scrutiny committee last Thursday, Alnwick's county councillor, Gordon Castle, described the outcome of the long process of consultation on school structures in the Alnwick Partnership as being ‘as satisfactory as we could ever hope’.