The closure of Acklington CofE First School has been signed off by councillors and the final bell is set to ring in the summer.
In line with the recommendation at last week’s meeting of the county council’s family and children’s scrutiny committee, the decision-making cabinet voted on Tuesday that the school should stay open until the end of the academic year (August 31, 2018).
This is subject to final approval as it is different to what was originally proposed by the governing body of the James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) federation, which was to close at the end of next month.
The closure is based on the falling pupil numbers, which puts the school in a precarious financial situation as well as raising concerns about whether a broad curriculum can be provided to pupils alongside the impact on their emotional and social development.
Andy Johnson, the council’s interim director of children’s services, and Neil Rodgers, JCSC’s executive headteacher, set out the rationale behind the closure, which Mr Rodgers described as ‘the only viable option’.
Parent Steven Bush repeated the concerns he raised at last week’s meeting, saying: “We believe the school hasn’t taken the necessary time or actions to investigate alternative options to closure.”
Local ward member, Coun Jeff Watson, added: “It’s very sad when a school like Acklington, that has been around for so many years, is facing a situation like this.
“Many of the parents feel let down by the system. Twenty-one months ago (when Acklington joined the JCSC hard federation), promises were made and they felt they weren’t kept.”
He added: “I can’t argue against the closure, but we should keep the school open until the summer term. I know there will be a cost and I know that’s difficult, but in this case, I think we should bear it.”
When the governors launched a consultation on closure in May, there were 13 pupils on roll. Now there are just eight, although it is accepted that the uncertainty around the school’s future has had an impact.
The school is set to run a deficit of £40,000 in 2017/18, while the buildings are in a poor condition and the mobile classrooms need to be replaced at a cost of around £170,000.
There are places available for the eight pupils across the other first and primary schools in the Coquet Partnership.
Part of Acklington’s catchment area would be incorporated into Broomhill First School’s as the nearest school (1.3 miles) and part would be incorporated into that of Warkworth CofE Primary School as the closest Church of England school offering primary education (2.9 miles). The council would guarantee transport to these schools for eligible pupils.