Falling pupil number concerns raised during discussions on how Northumberland village should develop

Concerns have been raised about falling pupil numbers during a discussion on how a Northumberland village should develop in the future.

Tuesday, 17th December 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 17th December 2019, 6:05 am
Belford Primary School.

Belford Primary School is one of many rural schools in Northumberland faced with declining pupil numbers and the financial and educational issues that causes.

Its numbers increased when St Mary’s Middle School closed in 2018 and it changed from a first school to a primary school, taking pupils up to the age of 11.

However, that has been viewed as a short-term boost against a longer-term trend.

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School governor, Dr Saul Miller, outlined its current difficulties during a discussion on the village’s neighbourhood plan at a meeting of Belford Parish Council.

“The school could certainly do with some more kids because the funding is per head of population,” he explained. “I have been a governor for 15 years and the roll has steadily gone down.

“It went up a notch because of the closing of the middle school but we know that a lot of families chose not to settle here in recent years because of the uncertainties associated with that. We are about to see it going down again.”

Government figures show the school has capacity for 187 children but currently has 77 pupils.

“The problem with lack of children is that you then can’t afford the teachers so you have to start pushing classes together.” Dr Miller explained. “Then it’s much harder to maintain a high quality of education because you can’t afford to have any specialisation.”

Brenda Stanton, chairman of the neighbourhood plan steering group, had been a part-time teacher at Kirknewton First School which closed in 2004.

“There were not enough children in that school for them to bounce off each other,” she said. “Children learn from other children socially and academically so if the school roll is going down those children are not going to learn as well. Children are competitive. It’s much better for children if the school roll is bigger.”

Dr Miller also predicted the whole county will end up with primary schools feeding into secondary schools, bringing an end to the three tier system still in place in some areas.