End in sight for first school

St Cuthbert's RC First School in Amble.
St Cuthbert's RC First School in Amble.

Falling pupil numbers, combined with its recent poor Ofsted report, could sound the death knell for a north Northumberland first school.

St Cuthbert’s RC First School, in Amble, requires special measures following its recent Ofsted report – it was one of 17 schools inspected in the county amid attainment fears.

Earlier this month, parents of pupils at the school were told that the board of governors was launching a consultation on its proposal to close the school from August 31, 2014.

Last Wednesday, around 40 people attended another meeting at the school with the governors, staff, the director of education for the Diocese of Newcastle and Hexham and the county’s schools manager.

And during the course of the evening, it became painfully clear that the future of the school looks very bleak.

John Clark, Northumberland County Council’s senior manager for school organisation and statutory functions, explained that the combination of the falling roll at the school and the Ofsted report ‘is the real killer’.

Current guidance from the Department for Education dictates that schools in special measures can either close or become a sponsored academy.

However, any company or partner school which took on responsibility as a sponsor would need assurances that the necessary finance was there.

Currently, the school has 38 pupils, but by September next year that will drop to 26 in a school with a capacity of 120.

Changes earlier this year to schools funding, which is now based almost entirely on pupil numbers, mean that if the school continued in 2014/15, there would only be enough money for 1.6 members of teaching staff.

The entire school would have to be taught in one class every afternoon of the week.

“It gets to a point where the children have an impoverished education,” said Joseph Hughes, the Diocese’s director of education.

In a statement, chairman of governors, Paul Claridge, said: “We have now started to turn a corner, but sadly for us, Ofsted came too soon and all our hard work failed to make an impact.”

He added that the decision to consult on closure had been made by the governors ‘with very heavy hearts’.

The governors’ consultation runs until February 24, 2014.

If closure was still felt to be the right option, the board would approve the publication of a statutory notice, which would start a six-week county council consultation period.

At the end of this period, the council’s policy board would make the final decision, probably in May next year.

There are enough spaces between the other two first schools in Amble – Amble Links and Edwin Street – to guarantee a place for pupils at one or the other.

Practising catholics would be able to send their children to St Paul’s in Alnwick and receive funding for tranport.