North Northumberland residents urged to ensure 'rural voice is heard' in any schools shake-up

Wooler councillors have appealed for local residents to ensure ‘the rural voice is heard’ in discussions over the future of local schools.

By Ian Smith
Thursday, 7th October 2021, 2:32 pm
Glendale Middle School in Wooler.

A review into options for the Berwick schools partnership is being conducted by Northumberland County Council with public pre-consultation open until October 22.

But concerns have been raised that much of the discussion has been focused on Berwick Academy and the Berwick middle schools.

Cllr Mark Mather, Wooler ward member on Northumberland County Council, said: “We really need to stress to as many people as possible to get their views in to the consultation process so that the rural voice is heard.

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Wooler councillor Mark Mather.

"Although it’s called the Berwick partnership and there’s been a lot of talk about Berwick Academy and the Berwick middle schools, it also includes Glendale.”

Wooler is part of the Berwick partnership but historically there has been a split with some older pupils going to Berwick and others to Alnwick.

Cllr Mark Napier, speaking at a meeting of Wooler Parish Council, asked if Wooler becoming part of the Alnwick partnership would be one of the options.

"The majority of kids in Wooler go to Alnwick,” he said. “It’s the ones who travel into Wooler from further north (for middle school) who end up going to Berwick.”

It was also revealed that siblings have been split up because there is no space at Duchess’s Community High School (DCHS).

Cllr Mather admitted: "It’s been the worst part of my start to being a county councillor, having families on the phone who already have a child at Alnwick high and their second kid hasn’t been given permission to go there and have had to go to Berwick. It’s split families up and it’s something I can’t agree with.”

Cllr Paul Watson added: “There are too many failing schools in Northumberland and that’s why they’re filling Alnwick up. There are kids being forced to go to Berwick which isn’t right.”

Cllr Napier explained that capacity issues at DCHS had been exacerbated by it taking in more pupils from the Belford catchment area, especially since the closure of St Mary’s Middle School.

The county council has allocated £40 million in its medium-term plan for schools in the Berwick partnership.

The pre-consultation is designed to help the authority in ensuring public funds are invested in the right educational structure and providing sustainable schools.

The Three Bridges Federation (Berwick Middle School and Tweedmouth Middle School) and Berwick Academy has already said it plans to investigate joining a multi-academy trust.

But Cllr Mather said: “It’s been stressed to us that all options are on the table. Whatever comes out of the consultation process, it’s going to be whatever is best for the children that we’re aiming for.

“This is the opportunity of a generation in my view to get the best education we can. I don’t care what model it is or whether it’s north or south, we have to do what is best for the kids. That’s why we need as many people as possible to feed into it.”

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