‘People in Seahouses feel we are not being heard’

Protesters who want to save Seahouses Middle School.
Protesters who want to save Seahouses Middle School.

If not quite resigned to their fate, the prevailing feeling at last night’s public meeting in Seahouses, as the community fights to save its middle school, was that they will not be able to influence the decision.

One of the governors summed up the sentiment, saying: “I do feel that even if every parent and every governor from both schools responded to say we would like to stay as we are, I don’t think that would happen. People in Seahouses feel we are not being heard.”

Yesterday’s meeting was not as well-attended as those at Embleton and Branton, in terms of the relative size of the schools and communities, but the sentiment above may well have been a contributing factor.

It came as the second period of consultation on the future of Alnwick Partnership, based on a preferred model of a majority of the first schools switching to primary schools, the middle schools closing and the new high school becoming a secondary school, approaches its close on Thursday, October 22.

Coun John Woodman, ward member for the Seahouses area, asked the county council’s director of education, Andy Johnson, what he would need to be able to support or be neutral on keeping education to age 13 in Seahouses, but Mr Johnson said he didn’t know, adding that he put forward one option for this second period of consultation because he couldn’t think of another or better solution.

Later in the meeting, he added: “I think it’s fairly likely that the Duchess’s Community High School will become an 11-18 school and that will have an impact here. It’s up to you to come up with the best solution.”

He also said: “There are rumblings in the Berwick Partnership too and the last thing I want to do is another consultation so I’m not focusing on standards. I want a group of schools to come as one and say, this is what we want to do. However, here we have a majority of schools saying this is what we want to do, but a minority of schools saying this is what we definitely don’t want to do. We are trying to keep together a system that is at danger of fragmenting.”

In terms of the rationale for closing Seahouses Middle School, Mr Johnson once again pointed to concerns around maintaining first and middle schools in an otherwise primary and secondary system. He referred to statistics which show that when pupils join a school separately to the rest of their cohort, it tends to have a detrimental impact on their progress.

Questioned about this, as he was at Branton on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “You might think it’s a risk worth paying, but I don’t think you are going to be able to persuade me it’s not a disadvantage. It is a disadvantage in my opinion.”

On a more practical note, he pointed out that there was a risk that there would be no places at the Duchess’s at 13, having all been filled at 11, as spaces could not be refused to children from outside the catchment area under the rules of parental choice.

Coun Kate Cairns pointed out that there would also be pupils from Glendale Middle School in Wooler and St Mary’s CofE Middle School in Belford joining the Duchess’s at 13. She also asked if parents could indicate at 11 that they wanted their children to attend the Duchess’s in two years’ time, but was told this could only be a soft arrangement and would not guarantee a place as it’s a national, statutory process.

Another reason put forward, which didn’t apply in Embleton and Branton, was that it would help ensure a school remained in Seahouses. “A single school would ensure a sustainable school presence in the village,” said Mr Johnson, who highlighted that there are currently 104 pupils at the middle school and 68 at the first school.

But one parent, who is also a parent-governor, pointed out that those figures include children who attend Seahouses Middle School from the likes of Embleton and Craster, who would go elsewhere for primary school if the preferred model went ahead. She added: “You talk about parental choice – I don’t feel we have parental choice, we are just led by everyone else because we are in a minority.”

There were also comments and questions about school transport, after-school activities, whether the single-site secondary school in Alnwick would be ready in time and the uncertain future for the teachers at Seahouses.

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