D-day looms for new school bid

A ‘CRITICAL’ announcement on funding for a new high school in Alnwick is expected imminently, the Gazette has been told.

Northumberland County Council submitted a Private Finance Initiative application to the Department for Education to rebuild the Duchess’s Community High School on a new site in the town.

And a decision on whether funding will be given and, if so, how much, is expected within the next few weeks.

The cost to rebuild the school is said to be around £30million and will make up part of a joint bid that was put in by the council for three schools – the Duchess’s, Prudhoe High and Bedlingtonshire High – to a fund specficially for improving dilapidated schools.

If approved it will end decades of teaching and learning in run-down facilities on a split-site.

The new school would be built at Greensfield, where land has been reserved by Northumberland Estates for the re-build.

Sir Alan Beith, Liberal Democrat MP for north Northumberland who has been fighting the case in Parliament, said: “I hope we will get a decision from the Department for Education in the next couple of weeks.

“I have continued to speak to ministers about the urgent need for funding to replace the school and will not let this issue rest. The last Labour government would not allow schools like the Duchess’s – with buildings in very poor condition but good results – to apply for money and now that policy has been changed, but we need a mechanism for allocating funds to be put in place.”

Maurice Hall, headteacher at the Duchess’s, said: “We would hope that an announcement will be made in the very near future.

“Fingers crossed that it is a positive one and brings to an end decades of very poor facilities that generations of our students and staff have had to put up with.”

Roger Styring, deputy leader at the county council, added: “We hope that we are going to get a substantial amount of money. We have got a commitment, which we have made several times before, that when the bid is announced we will look at it and put money in ourselves.

“The labour minister has been up here, Michael Gove [education minister] has been up and we met them and they appreciated our case.

“We are also pursuing it through Alan Beith. And we are reasonably optimistic that we are going to get something.

“Alnwick is desperate for a new high school. My mother-in-law is 93 and went to the Duchess’s, it was in need of replacement then.

“I think we have had a sympathetic ear and now it is down to the resources of the Department for Education.”

He added that while the school is looking to form an academy with others in the Aln Federation, that will not affect any funding it will get from the county council.

And while no money has yet been put aside from the county, he reiterated that the council is committed to rebuilding the school.

Alnwick town and county councillor Gordon Castle said: “We have been led right up to the brink before and not got the money.

“But as councillors we have tried very hard to get this funding sorted out.

“All I can say is this really is the last chance. If we fail to get the funding, I don’t know where we go.

“This decision is critical to the future of the school.”