This is a letter that I wrote to Andy Johnson, Director of Education Northumberland, with reference to the proposed closure of Branton and Embleton first schools. As yet I have received neither acknowledgement nor reply.
Dear Mr Johnson,
I expect you will be being bombarded with letters pleading with you to listen to reasons as to why our wonderful local school should not be sacrificed to provide Alnwick with a two-tier system of education.
I would like you to hear my thoughts on this possibly life-changing decision.
My family have lived in this community for just short of 100 years.
Obviously lots of things have changed in that time, however, one factor remains the same – we are a remote community, which brings a few disadvantages, but on the whole there are many more advantages.
For example, people in rural communities support their local schools, village halls, churches (sometimes), local shop and post office. The people that use them are known to one another, and therefore create a community with lasting friendships and associations. They are known by almost everyone and, more importantly, are answerable to them.
If we lose these connections we become anonymous to our communities. Children, in particular, lose identity and in time can become displaced.
Branton school has provided three generations of education for my family. In that time the school has accommodated between 50 pupils and eight. This drop of pupils occurred when farming, being the main industry, became more mechanised, requiring less staff.
Now we have modernised cottages people want to come to live in, small, smart new housing estates and still many existing outlying houses and cottages. Lots of them have children in them.
To have to leave home on a cold, dark morning for a journey that could take more than three-quarters of an hour to an overcrowded village school, which is the alternative offer, and is not even local, is a depressing thought for myself and I am sure many parents.
Our headmistress, Zoe Ryan, and her amazing supportive staff have created in a short time an excellent place of learning in Branton. The children are part of the wider community in that they invite the public into school on a regular basis to hear them play music, they all play violin, also to watch them compete in sport.
They also perform a Christmas production in the village hall where there are 100 people or more willing to pay to watch the brilliant spectacle. Remember these children are four to nine and all have the confidence to stand up in public and perform.
Outstanding. I would say so. This is due partly to the dedication of the staff, but also the interest of the wider community and its support.
I urge you and your education committees to look at the much wider picture, rather than making the decision to go two-tier.
I am now reading that we are to expect that funding for local transport is to be cut to rural communities. How much more should we put up with?
Please consider carefully your final decision for our small schools, or you will go down in history as the education authority who killed community life.
Community First School