Time to break our silence

IT is an overwhelming relief to me, to the headteacher and staff, to the governing body and to the local community of Branton Community First School that we have been allowed to withdraw from the consultation process to close. Also to be allowed to break our silence of the past four months lest we jeopardise the process.

The governors never wanted for the school to close we know the headteacher and her staff provide a stimulating and varied curriculum for all the pupils. We would never have wanted the children from the valley who already travel over an hour-and-a-half per day to have to go even further, nor for pupils who had already moved from other schools which had closed to move again.

Branton School has always been a small school but provides a vital service to a very rural community. The pupils all leave us confident and well-rounded and go on to do very well at other schools within the county.

The pupils all get weekly swimming lessons in Alnwick, learn gymnastics and other sports at Glendale Middle School, learn Spanish and Music at the school. They have good relationships and meet regularly with pupils from other rural and urban first schools and the middle school.

However, having no budget to spare would have limited these opportunities because of transport costs.

I was skeptical of the consultation process, not least because of how it made the governors seem. However, like many other schools before us, we had no option as we were unable to see at that time how we could set a positive budget for 2012/2013 or see any way of increasing pupil numbers.

We had no concerns regarding the teaching and learning – the school has always been a small school and the headteacher plans the learning for every child individually and is very experienced in giving them the variety in their curriculum they deserve, ensuring that they learn the most important lesson in life, which is the best person to strive to do better than is yourself.

My view of that process is now much-improved because it gave us the opportunity to find out just how much belief and support there was for the school from the local community, To be advised by the council on a Community Powers Nursery (something of which we were previously unaware) and to be given the eye-opening data for live births and GP data of under-fives for the past six years which highlighted a 500-600 per cent increase in the birth rate within our catchment area.

During the process we have gained two full-time pupils and we have become aware of four or five parents who very much want their children to come to nursery at Branton School during the next academic year. We are now making plans to get a Community Powers Nursery up and running, we hope by September.

We have been pledged money from local landowners, past and present parents, community members, local businesses, the Ingram Show Committee and there are two big fund-raising events already organised in May.

We have also been gifted services by local people to cut our budget costs and by Glendale Middle School for PE lessons at their school.

Over the past year and throughout the consultation period the school has been very diligent in its spending and has managed to save in many areas such as school dinners (by outsourcing from Pottergate Pantry), supply teaching and resources.

We have also had increased income from the additional pupils and from retrospective payments from the council.

This means that despite this time last year having a projected carry forward of just £9, we are now carrying over close to £8,000 from this year meaning in 2012/2013 we can now set a positive budget.

The budget is not being supported this year with the money pledged by the community: this we now hope will secure our business plan for opening a nursery.

This nursery will increase pupil numbers which in turn will increase income for future years and allow us to continue, we hope, for many more years to come.

Laura Capper

Chairman of Governors

Branton Community First School