A report to Northumberland County Council’s cabinet on Tuesday explained how the schools in the Berwick partnership were facing significant challenges in terms of sustainability and education standards.
The council has allocated almost £40m in capital funding to invest in education within the partnership – but councillors want to be assured that the partnership’s structure is viable and sustainable before committing to investing the money.
A number of options had previously been put forward to schools, but the only one supported by a majority of schools were a change to a two-tier system, doing away with the area’s middle schools. Nine schools were in support of the option, while four were against and three were undecided.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Coun Guy Renner Thompson, portfolio holder for education, explained the need for change in the partnership.
He said: “This began back in 2019, when we put £15m in the budget for a fairly basic rebuild of Berwick Academy It was very quickly realised there were other issues to resolve and various structural problems.
“A quarter of high school children go elsewhere, either into the Alnwick partnership or across the border into Scotland. My ambition is that this will become a beacon of excellence in north Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.
“The fact that we’re losing children over the border when the SNP have trashed education in Scotland is a testament to how much we need to get this work done. This is the final piece of the puzzle to make Berwick itself into a very desirable place to live and work.”
The first stage of the planned two-stage informal consultation process will ask parents and stakeholders:
Whether any future models of organisation for schools in the Berwick Partnership should be based on a 3-tier organisation only or a 2-tier model of organisation The need for an improved SEND offer for the Berwick area The need for an improved Early Years offer for the Berwick Area The need for the development of a Post-16 and Post-18 provision in the Berwick area
Council leader Glen Sanderson added that any changes made to the system would be what parents and stakeholders wanted to see.
He said: “This is going to be a decision for parents and teachers and people to decide. We’re not going to impose anything. We will be guided entirely by what people want.
“It is complex, but I know we will get through with the right answer and I think it will be fairly soon.”
The cabinet unanimously agreed to move forward with the consultation.
Views will also be sought on whether Belford Primary, Wooler First and Glendale Middle Schools should join the Alnwick Partnership to better reflect the flow of secondary aged pupils.
Cath McEvoy-Carr, Executive Director for Adult and Children’s Services, said: “We have been working closely with schools in the Berwick Partnership over the last year to discuss a number of possible models of organisation.
“Fewer children are being born in the Berwick Partership area with 128 surplus Reception places expected by 2025. Over a quarter (28%) of high school pupils are also leaving the partnership area for schools in Alnwick, Scotland and the private sector.
“Before committing to such investment in these schools, it’s important that the organisational structure within the Berwick Partnership is viable and sustainable in the medium to long-term, retaining pupils through all phases.
“The next steps in our consultation process will enable everyone involved to have their voices heard on how we can secure the best education and outcomes for our children and young people.”
Consultation will take place between May 23 and July 23.