Community rallies around under-threat school

Embleton Vincent Edwards CE First School. Picture by Jane Coltman
Embleton Vincent Edwards CE First School. Picture by Jane Coltman

The community in Embleton is united in supporting its first school converting to a primary school in order to avoid closure next year.

At a well-attended meeting last night in which a majority of people were wearing Save Embleton School T-shirts, Northumberland County Council officials were left in no doubt as to the feelings of Embleton Vincent Edwards CE First School and the village; we can become a viable and successful primary school.

In June this year, a switch to a two-tier system of primary and secondary schools in Alnwick and the surrounding area began to look more likely following the publication of the report after the first period of consultation.

While the preferred model of the first schools switching to primary schools, the middle schools closing and the new high school becoming a secondary school may have been expected, what came out of the blue was the proposal to close the first schools in Embleton and Branton.

At yesterday’s meeting, the county council’s director of education, Andy Johnson, who was accompanied by executive director for wellbeing and community health services, Daljit Lally, explained that the suggested closure of Embleton was based on the governing body’s response to the initial consultation. They said not just that they didn’t want to become a primary, but that they didn’t have the capacity to be a primary school.

However, it was made clear yesterday that the governors have changed their position and now they want to become a primary school, which is supported by the community.

Headteacher Belinda Athey, who had only just started in the role when this process started last November, said: “Very early on, we were guided by the community and parents that being a first school was best for Embleton. Personally, I have always believed that the best thing for this school and the schools in this area is to go primary.

“Although we are in a different position now, it’s a clear position. We want to make it very clear that we feel we can be an outstanding primary school, not just a good one.”

Parent governor Vickie Fyffe, who has been instrumental in the campaign to save the school, highlighted the school’s Ofsted report, adding: “We are probably in a better position than many other small rural schools in the area to go primary.”

Some of the discussion at the meeting also focused on the impact the school closing would have on the wider community.

Coun Heather Cairns, who represents Alnwick, said: “A village school is so much more than a school which is achieving standards, it’s part of the community and part of the economic viability of the village.” She conceded that Mr Johnson’s and Ms Lally’s jobs were to look at educational standards, but said there needed to be more joined-up thinking within the council.

She was supported by villager David Morgan, who spent many years working in education, who pointed out that just 200 metres away from the school, the county council is building 16 social houses to provide homes for young families. He said it would be a ‘PR disaster’ if the council turned up in April next year for the official opening of those homes, only to be followed by the school closing in August.

Coun Anthony Murray, who is fighting to save Branton Community First School, which is in his patch, said: “I have been involved in three school closures in my time and all three have ended up with the communities not dead, but dying. I hope you find the closure of Embleton can come off the recommendation (to the county council’s cabinet in November).”

Further public meetings take place at Branton Community First School on Tuesday (October 6) and Seahouses Middle School next Thursday (October 8), both at 7pm.