SCHOOLS REORGANISATION: Separate system for rural areas rejected

The site of the new high school in Alnwick in early May. The school now looks set to become a secondary school.
The site of the new high school in Alnwick in early May. The school now looks set to become a secondary school.
  • Consensus develops on single-site secondary school in Alnwick
  • But request for retention of three-tier system in rural areas
  • Consultation on additional option of mixed economy rejected

A proposal to consult on a ‘mixed economy’, with a secondary school in Alnwick but a three-tier system retained in the rural villages, has been shot down prior to a decision later today on the next steps for the restructuring of education in north Northumberland.

There was a call for consultation on this new option to be included going forward, but this morning, the county council’s children’s services scrutiny committee narrowly rejected this, meaning the likely outcome is further consultation on the preferred option of a secondary school on a single site in Alnwick, the closure of four middle schools and the conversion of the first schools into primary schools.

This report tries to set out the best possible educational solution to keep the system together

Andy Johnson, director of education at Northumberland County Council

Wooler member Coun Anthony Murray proposed an amendment to include the mixed economy in the consultation moving ahead, but this was rejected by one vote.

Introducing his report, director of education Andy Johnson pointed out that the schools had originally called for the consultation because of the risk of the system across Alnwick breaking up and ‘having unintended consequences on other schools in the partnership’. The governing bodies supporting the preferred option represent 2,600 pupils from a total of 2,900, he said.

“It was apparent from the outset that consensus was very unlikely,” he said. “This report tries to set out the best possible educational solution to keep the system together.

“It’s not about advocating a two-tier or three-tier system. We don’t have a philosophical opinion as to which system is better.”

Later in the meeting, he added: “I don’t think we can treat Alnwick as an island and I don’t think we can treat Seahouses as an island either. I proposed this as a true belief that this is the right way forward educationally for the young people in Northumberland.”

Four north Northumberland ward members spoke at the meeting with Alnwick councillor Heather Cairns calling for a change so that the middle schools would not be closed before the new secondary school site is ready in Alnwick, to avoid the temporary measure of using the Lindisfarne Middle School site for Years 7 and 8.

Coun Kate Cairns highlighted the proposed closure of Embleton and Branton first schools, describing them as ‘collateral damage’ and reporting that the communities ‘feel grossly misled’ as there was not ‘even a whisper’ of closing the schools in the consultation.

Alnwick Coun Gordon Castle recognised the concerns from rural communities, but added: “I would be appalled if we lost this opportunity for the best possible school in Alnwick.”

Finally, Coun John Woodman, whose ward includes the Seahouses area, reiterated his concerns from the petitions committee meeting earlier in the day and called for a consultation on the mixed economy.

The final meeting of today will likely see the county council’s cabinet approve the recommendations for further consultation on the two-tier option for the Alnwick Partnership.

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