EDUCATION: Arguments in support of our schools

Protestors who want to save Seahouses Middle School
Protestors who want to save Seahouses Middle School

Re Gazette letters, January 8, Consultation on the reorganisation of the Alnwick Partnership by Carol Fawcus. You are right about your arguments for retaining middle schools and I would like to add some support by providing more information.

Northumberland County Council is working by stealth to consult on the whim of first schools, some of whom have ambition to become primary schools.

The county has no strategic plan to best fit an educational system for schools in Northumberland and it is this which causes most dismay about the ineptitude of those responsible for what could result in a shambles for educational provision in Northumberland.

In Alnwick there are a few first schools which have enough pupils to have a class for any one year group – Swansfield Park, St Michael’s and St Paul’s.

Of all the other first schools, only Shilbottle will have enough pupils in any one year group to have a class. The rest of the first schools will have to have mixed age classes, some spanning over four years (Branton, only three pupils per year; Embleton, only five pupils in a year group; Whittingham, nine pupils per year group).

These are approximate numbers but they are likely to decrease since there are fewer pupils coming in to schools over the next few years. Other numbers for pupils in any one year are Ellingham 11, Felton 11, Hipsburn 18, Seahouses First 15, Swarland 13.

This makes the first schools vulnerable for being closed once they have become a primary because they will find it difficult to get results for Year 6 SAT tests. They will not have the resources, facilities nor staff specialists.

The present system of middle schools provides for the collection of pupils from age nine so that there are the quality of facilities and numbers of pupils to guarantee class sizes to teach in single year groups (Seahouses Middle 27, Lindisfarne 90, Duke’s 38, St Paul’s 46).

What this will leave at the other end if the Model B (two-tier) comes about is a split site school at Duchess’s High housing Years Seven and Eight on the Lindisfarne site.

This will become an annex of Duchess’s High, effectively a three-tier provision, with staff having to move quite a distance from the new build site of Duchess’s High to the Lindisfarne site. They will be entering the school parking area when pupils are having their break times. Or they may use the car park by the Lindisfarne Sports Hall which has a very poor opening and is a recipe for an accident.

Duchess’s High School would like to have the Key Stage Three pupils (ages 11 - 14) sooner rather than later, but not as a split site incurring all the problems that would create.

There should be a five-year plan looking at the best provision for children in the Alnwick area – not a rushed consultation. Maybe it will eventually go two-tier, but it needs to consider the excellent resources that will be lost in the middle schools if it goes two-tier under this plan.

The officers for the county will be showing county councillors who have no responsibility for this area a change which could collapse the whole education system.

There is no proof that the three-tier system does not have results as good as or better than primary schools.

The results at Duchess’s High have been very good this year. They have not been affected by the three-tier system. The three-tier systems work in Whitley Bay (North Tyneside) and Gosforth (Newcastle) and there is an outstanding middle school in Ponteland.

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