Headteacher says switch to two-tier system will be 'transformational' for his Amble school and surrounding area

A new £25.7 million building for Amble’s high school will be ‘transformative’ for the town, according to its headteacher.
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Last week Northumberland County Council’s cabinet gave final approval for schools in the Coquet partnership to switch to a two-tier model.

It also gave the green light to move ahead with the outline business case for a new building for James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) as part of the £39.06m investment in the Coquet Partnership of schools and its 1,343 pupils.

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A new satellite site of Barndale House Special School will also be built on the current JCSC South Avenue site, creating 50 new places for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – primarily those with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, social, emotional and mental health, speech language and communication and moderate learning difficulties.

Executive headteacher Neil Rodgers.Executive headteacher Neil Rodgers.
Executive headteacher Neil Rodgers.

The executive headteacher of James Calvert Spence College welcomed the news, which follows the school receiving a good Ofsted grade.

Neil Rodgers said: “A new secondary school for James Calvert Spence College will be transformational for the people of Amble and the surrounding area.

“The preferred model for the development situates the new buildings in a more central location whilst retaining all of the existing land that the current upper school site occupies, using it to provide much-needed upgraded sports and recreational facilities for our students and wider community.

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“We will work closely with the team at Northumberland County Council to ensure the school will be specifically designed to suit the needs of our pupils with modern classrooms, workshops and laboratories alongside upgraded sixth form facilities. This excellent and long-awaited news, alongside our recently awarded good Ofsted grade, will ensure all pupils in the Coquet partnership receive the very best secondary education for many years to come.”

James Calvert Spence College in Amble is set to benefit from major redevelopment.James Calvert Spence College in Amble is set to benefit from major redevelopment.
James Calvert Spence College in Amble is set to benefit from major redevelopment.

The switch to two-tier has proved controversial in other parts of Northumberland, but the majority of parents in the Coquet partnership backed the plans. It means the area’s first schools will be expanded into primary schools from September 2024, while JCSC will have its age range reduced from the current 9-18 school to an 11-18 secondary school with effect from September 2025.

Mr Rogers said there were benefits of both systems, but encouraged cooperation between schools.

He added: “The change to a two-tier system has its pros and cons. A two-tier system does allow a consistent entry point at the end of Key Stage 2, rather than in the middle of the key stage.

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“We will of course be extremely sad to lose our youngest year groups and the enhanced facilities and experiences we are able to offer them. However, all schools in the partnership are determined to work together to ensure the very best outcomes for our community.”

Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson, cabinet member with responsibility for children’s services, said: “This is really exciting news for Amble. We’ve been working on these proposals for a long time, but now the plans will really start to take shape.

“Not only will this development provide first-class learning facilities for our children and young people, but fantastic sports facilities that will benefit the community too.”

The building will be carbon neutral in operation and have a two-storey courtyard design, and investment will also be made in each of the first schools to expand capacity.

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Audrey Kingham, joint interim director of children’s services and director of education and skills, said: “It’s been a phenomenal amount of work on behalf of all involved to get the project to this stage and I know everyone shares the same drive and commitment to supporting our young people and ensure they reach their full potential.”