Two-tier system preferred option for Alnwick Partnership schools

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.
  • Statutory consultation could be approved next Thursday
  • Majority of governing bodies were in favour of two-tier system
  • Middle schools would be closed in August 2017

A switch to a two-tier system of primary and secondary schools looks set to take place in Alnwick and the surrounding area, meaning the closure of four middle schools.

A report to next Thursday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s cabinet recommends that, following input from the petitions and children’s services committees, a statutory consultation is launched on making the Duchess’s Community High School a secondary school for 11 to 18-year-olds from September 2017 and the closure of The Duke’s, Lindisfarne, St Paul’s RC Aided and Seahouses Middle Schools in August 2017.

These proposals are made so that we can ensure the longer-term sustainability of our schools and secure better outcomes for all children

Daljit Lally, executive director at Northumberland County Council

Hipsburn, Shilbottle, Swansfield Park, Swarland, Seahouses First, St Michael’s CE, Longhoughton CE, Ellingham CE, Felton CE, Whittingham CE and St Paul’s RC First Schools would become primary schools from September 2016, while Embleton Vincent Edwards CE First School would close in August 2016 followed by Branton First School in August 2017.

The proposals have been drawn up after an extensive consultation exercise. In November 2014, schools in the Alnwick Partnership approached the local authority to carry out a consultation on their behalf.

During the consultation process, more than 50 meetings were held, providing the opportunity for governors, headteachers, staff, parents, pupils and the wider community to give their views, which were wide and varied.

A total of 6,930 letters and notifications were sent out and more than 1,200 people attended meetings. People were offered the opportunity to put forward their own alternative models for consultation. Hundreds of written responses were received from a wide variety of individuals and groups.

The governing bodies of 12 of the 18 schools in the partnership stated they were in favour of the implementation of a new two-tier model. If this proposal were to be agreed by councillors, this would result in the closure of middle schools across the partnership and a further consultation about the closure of two first schools which would not be viable to continue as primary schools.

Daljit Lally, executive director at Northumberland County Council, said: “As national education policy continues to devolve more powers to schools and academies, there is a real risk that individual schools within the partnership could take unilateral action to change their own structures which would have an unintended destabilising effect on other schools in the area.

“These proposals are made so that we can ensure the longer-term sustainability of our schools and secure better outcomes for all children.”

Around 593 responses from groups or individuals were made to the council’s consultation on proposals for the ten community schools, of which 250 were from the Seahouses area, where a campaign is being fought against the loss of the middle school.

Overall, 171 were in favour of merging the Duke’s and Lindisfarne and 265 against; 153 backed two-tier and 394 were opposed; and 360 supported no change with 189 against. Even removing the Seahouses responses, the largest number was yes to no change.

The Alnwick Partnership comprises 18 schools. Eight of these are church schools and decisions regarding the change in age range will be made by their own governing bodies. The remaining ten schools are community schools and decisions regarding their change of age range will be made by councillors. However, the two processes are inextricably linked.

Six schools outside the partnership, but which would be affected by the changes, were also consulted. The governing body of Belford First School was in support of the two-tier system in both the Alnwick and Berwick Partnerships, while the village’s St Mary’s CE Middle School set out the benefits of middle schools in rural areas. Neither of the schools in Wooler was in favour of a switching to a two-tier system, while Warkworth CE First School stated the need for consistency between the Alnwick and Coquet Partnerships. Dr Thomlinson’s Middle School in Rothbury did not submit a response.

If cabinet members agree to further consultation, a detailed buildings and transport plan will be needed for each school. A further period of consultation will also take place on the recommendations, the results of which will be reported back in late 2015.