Councillor outlines pros and cons of two and three-tier education in Northumberland

Tell anyone from outside Northumberland that you went to a middle school, and you’ll more often than not be met with a puzzled glance.

By James Robinson
Friday, 3rd June 2022, 3:35 pm

The county is one of the last bastions in the country for the three-tier education system that sees youngsters attend first school, middle school and then high school.

The vast majority of children in the UK attend just a primary and secondary model – and even in Northumberland, the number of three-tier school partnerships is falling – there are currently just 14 middle schools left in the county.

Fifty-three first schools remain open, but there are now 75 primary schools – and those figures could soon change. Parents and other stakeholders are currently being consulted on a possible move to a two-tier system in both the Berwick and Coquet school partnerships.

Two-tier or three-tier - that is the question.

Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson, Northumberland County Council’s cabinet member for children’s services with responsibility for education, explained some of the pros and cons of the respective systems.

He said: “The requests have come from a lot of schools. Some of it is to do with the economies of scale, but a lot of it is to do with the fact that the two-tier system matches up with the national curriculum.

“It makes more sense for a primary school to keep pupils for two years longer and the secondary school to get them two years earlier due to the curriculum.

“On the other hand there is the argument from a pastoral point of view that three-tier is better because you get pupils moving from a small first school to a slightly larger middle school and then on to a large high school, rather than straight from a small primary to a huge secondary school.”

Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson.

Cllr Renner-Thompson also pointed out that in some areas of the county, middle school pupils were leaving to attend secondary schools in other areas.

He added; “In the north of the county, Belford – a rural middle school – has had to close because of a lack of pupils in the final two years, as they were going to the Alnwick partnership which is two tier.

“Every school is different and every partnership is different. In Amble, every school was in agreement and has asked to change because the middle and high school have already merged, so nothing has to change.

“We’re going to spend £25 million on a new school, but even if we weren’t things wouldn’t have to change.

Berwick Academy.

“Berwick is different and there’s more of a difference of opinion. There is a majority who want to change, but it is a very slim majority.

“The main message is we’re opening it up for decision. We’re not imposing a change. I would encourage everyone to have their say in the consultation.”

In the Amble area, there are plans for a £25.5m capital investment in schools in the Coquet Partnership which will include the replacement or refurbishment of James Calvert Spence College (JCSC).

In Berwick, almost £40million has been earmarked for improvements to school buildings and facilities, including a new home for Berwick Academy.

James Calvert Spence College in Amble.