I’D like to share with your readers, both in Alnwick and Morpeth, a recent and enlightening experience I had with Northumberland County Council (NCC).
Like most people I have had few reasons to have first-hand encounters with NCC, other than bin collection and the odd pothole but recently my youngest child was refused entry to our preferred high school which she is due to start at in September this year, and we were invited to County Hall for a three day appeal process.
Despite living out of the catchment area of King Edward VI High School in Morpeth (KEVI), her two older siblings have attended KEVI after the eldest entered the Morpeth feeder schools (starting with Longhorsley First), for legitimate reasons, some 16 years ago.
Over the years, sibling has followed sibling as we felt that continuity in education and peer group together with the community spirit of common schools was a basic foundation of a good education.
Teachers and head teachers at all the schools involved have been fully supportive of this approach but alas NCC were now trying stop this, stating that KEVI is full and that children outside the catchment area would not be accommodated.
Day one of the appeal was an open forum, in front of an independent appeal panel, where we and 30-or-so similarly affected parents were able to listen to, and ask questions of, representatives of NCC and KEVI and hear the reasons why the school was full.
What followed was an extraordinary display of how out-of-touch, incompetent and arrogant NCC can be.
When Linda Vernon, school organisation manager, was asked why appropriate pupil provision has not been made at KEVI when the numbers moving up from the feeder schools had been known for four years, the best she could muster was that some of the children in the feeder schools had got there on appeal and therefore provision had deliberately not been made for all.
This, despite the fact that continuity of education is one of NCC’s selection criteria for admission to KEVI.
She further conceded that high schools in the north of the county were under populated but gave no explanation as to why teachers could not be transferred to KEVI to meet demand rather than children moved around the county.
There was a general suggestion that central government has withdrawn additional resources yet no explanation as to why existing resources were not being properly managed.
There were too many exchanges of this kind to catalogue here but typically and in response to the question, why is the school “full” when total pupil numbers at the school are 50-60 below the official stated pupil capacity, a spurious explanation was given that official pupil capacity was based on square-footage of the school and had no bearing on the actual number of pupils that can attend the school!
The most telling exchange in my view was when Mr Simon Taylor, head teacher at KEVI, was challenged with the fact that, based on official figures, the best academic achieving intake at the school had also been the largest, an intake number larger than that required accommodate all pupils for this year.
He responded that this was in fact true but that the teachers and staff had had to work extremely hard during this time and that they were not prepared to maintain that level of effort.
This fuelled a general stunned silence amongst the parents and a general bewilderment as to how we found ourselves in a position that such bureaucratic incompetence could have such a negative influence on a child’s life and education.
The icing on the cake was that Mr Jim Anderson, the clerk to the panel, was “too busy” to mail out the results of the appeal to expecting parents and children for a full week.
The result of the appeal? Our daughter didn’t get a place at KEVI. One very upset 13-year-old forced to wave goodbye to friendships forged over nine years by an incompetent, complacent and delusional county council.
Democracy at work?
The state for the people or people for the state?
I will let your readers make up their own mind. For me, I was ashamed to belong to a county that has such a council at the helm.