Will Northumberland village school be another victim?

The pupils at Acklington C of E First School.
The pupils at Acklington C of E First School.

A rural village school is under threat of closing due to falling pupil numbers, but campaigners have vowed to fight to save it.

The governing body of the James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) Federation has started a consultation about closing Acklington C of E First School at the end of December.

There are currently 13 pupils on the roll and they would be found places at other local schools if the proposal goes ahead. Staff, however, could face redundancy.

Opponents have expressed their disappointment and say it is another example of rural areas losing key facilities, including schools.

The consultation document states: ‘In the light of falling numbers at the school, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide the best educational experience for children at Acklington C of E First School.

‘The governing body has therefore reluctantly concluded that it must consider the option of closing the school and re-directing the pupils to other local schools.

‘There are currently only 13 children on roll and there is no anticipated intake into nursery or reception in September 2017.

‘Schools receive funding based on the number of pupils they have on roll, rather than the size of the school building.

‘The buildings are dilapidated and a recent survey suggested that the mobile classrooms are beyond repair and would need replacing.’

The document says that staff would be considered for employment at the other sites within the federation, if there are vacant posts and they are suitable.

Where there is no additional staff required, staff at the school would be ‘at risk’ of redundancy.

In 2015, Acklington C of E First School became part of the JCSC hard federation, creating one governing body to oversee the three schools – including the JCSC Acklington Road and South Avenue sites in Amble – with each school retaining its own budget.

This was done to give more stability and prevent the first school from closure which ‘would have otherwise been imminent’. At the time, the school had 10 students and two children in nursery.

A support package has been in place for 21 months, including a marketing campaign to attract more pupils and a free breakfast club, among other things.

But the governing body says with the small pupil numbers ‘it is increasingly difficult to provide a broad and balanced curriculum at the school’.

The consultation document adds: ‘The governing body recognises that the closure of the school would have an impact on the village community served by the school.

‘However, the decision to consult on the closure has been made after much deliberation and with great reluctance. There are five other first schools within a seven-mile radius with pupil places available and the facilities and buildings are better equipped and in better condition.’

But opponents are determined to do all they can to stop the proposal from going ahead.

Parents, staff, children and members of the community met at Acklington Village Hall on Tuesday night to discuss ways forward in a bid to save the school. Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Berwick, attended.

Danielle Forsyth, who works at the school, said: “As a parent who has had three children through the school, I feel devastated at the news that it could close in December.

“My own children thrived at the school and I have never had to worry about their education.

“As a current employee I get to see every day how the children enjoy coming into school and how they interact with one another. The personalised learning that a small school can provide ensures that each child receives the education best suited to their needs.”

Another parent added: “Everyone in the village is realistic, but we are fighting to keep the school open.”

Anne-Marie, as well as Julie Pörksen and Scott Dickinson, who are the Lib Dem and Labour Parliamentary candidates for Berwick, have vowed to talk and listen to the school and objectors.

Anne-Marie said: “Worried parents and local residents understand how vital the school is to the future of their community.”

Scott said it is a difficult time for rural schools, while Julie added that ‘village schools are crucial in attracting families to rural communities and to keep them vibrant.’