Writing on the wall after school closure is agreed

St Cuthbert's RC First School in Amble.
St Cuthbert's RC First School in Amble.

The final bell will sound at an Amble school this summer after the heartbreaking decision was made to close its doors.

On Tuesday, Northumberland County Council’s policy board rubber-stamped proposals to shut St Cuthbert’s RCVA First School on August 31.

The request came from the school’s governing body, after falling pupil numbers and a disastrous Ofsted report in October placed it in special measures.

Chairman of governors, Paul Claridge, told the meeting that they had been given two alternatives by the Department for Education – become a sponsored academy or close.

He added: “We haven’t been able to find a sponsor, so the only sensible thing to do was consult on closure. The Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle thinks closure is the only alternative as well.

“We would be down to 21 pupils after the summer and a drop in pupils means a drop in funding. They would have to be taught in one classroom.”

Desperate parents had battled to keep the school open, saying it had made significant improvements in attainment.

A petition against the school shutting had attracted 167 signatures and 94 per cent of respondents to the public consultation were against closure. Parent Rachel McGarvey described the process as badly handled and far too swift.

She questioned whether anyone had looked for a sponsor and stated that the town’s Busy Bees nursery had expressed an interest about moving onto the site.

But Amble town and county councillor Robert Arckless, who is also the county council’s head of children’s services, moved the recommendation to close the school, albeit with a heavy heart.

He said that while there had been progress, there was no getting away from the Ofsted report, adding: “The question has to be what is in the best long-term interests of the children. You need to think about sustainability.”

He said the county council would do everything it could to ensure the pupils had a place at another school in Amble, or St Paul’s RCVA First School in Alnwick.

Coun Jeff Reid criticised the Diocese for not attending the meeting. He said he felt the school could be viable in time, but that the tide was against it.