Governors vow to find ‘best solution for children of Alnwick’

Lalage Bosanquet
Lalage Bosanquet

As the consultation on the future structure of schools in Alnwick and the surrounding areas continues – and continues to spark strong emotions – LALAGE BOSANQUET, chairman of the Aln Community Schools Federation governing body, made up of the Duke’s and Lindisfarne Middle Schools and the Duchess’s Community High School, has this week written to all parents and staff making clear the governors’ position:

As you are all aware, we are in the middle of a consultation describing three options for re-organising education in the 18 schools across the Alnwick Partnership.

We have all been informed by the local authority (LA) that there are three broad models.

The first – Model A – is the merger of Duke’s and Lindisfarne middle schools in Sept 2015. The second – Model B – is to change from the three-tier system (first, middle and high schools) and go two-tier (primary and secondary schools). The third option – Model C – is no change.

These are broad suggestions and a Model D may be devised after consultation which combines or modifies the proposals. We would like to clarify the position of the governing body at this point in the consultation process.

As a governing body, we have been discussing the possibility of a merger of the two middle schools for several years now.

We believe that the staff and facilities of the Duke’s and Lindisfarne Middle Schools being combined onto one site, the Lindisfarne site, will strengthen the quality of education for all our students.

Years 5 and 6 can benefit from a primary curriculum, but with resources and specialist staff normally only available to senior school students.

The merger would also allow us to continue to provide an extended secondary curriculum in Years 7 and 8.

We would be better funded due to cost savings from running one site as opposed to two. It would also be easier to retain and recruit specialist staff for the secondary curriculum.

We also want to develop further the links between the middle and high schools so that the transition between them becomes seamless. We hope to preserve all the advantages of middle schools for the younger children, within a safe and nurturing environment, while building on the leadership and teaching strengths from across the Federation schools.

We informed the county council of our thoughts and asked for additional information on how to progress in early November.

This was with a view to developing detailed proposals prior to a full consultation with parents, staff and the community later in the academic year. We considered that any merger would be most appropriate no earlier than September 2016 when the Duchess’s High School will move to new premises.

We wanted to consider carefully the full impact on both staff and pupils and to keep everyone fully informed.

If the consultation had produced a positive result, we wanted to spend the year 2015-16 planning the merger very carefully to ensure that any disruption to staff and pupils was kept to a minimum.

The LA subsequently launched a consultation which included an amended proposal based largely on our proposal, but by September 2015. They have clearly stated that a September 2016 merger is also possible and may be still the preferred option.

The governing body now has to decide how to respond to the consultation on behalf of all our three schools and our communities.

We are also faced with the possibility that the whole partnership will go two-tier via Model B (the change to primary and secondary education across the Alnwick Partnership). At present, this model shows children from Years 7 and 8 in the Alnwick Partnership being educated by the Duchess’s School, but on the Lindisfarne school site and not on the new high school site.

So the students would be part of one secondary school with an age range of 11 to 18, but on a split site. This is a concern to us. We are seeking more information from the local authority about the potential for a single-site option.

It is clear that there is a need to be very considered in our response so that we identify what we think is the best possible long-term provision for our children in the Alnwick Partnership.

What happens next? The response the Aln Federation’s Governing Body now has to make to the three options the council as set out in the consultation is complex and in need of very careful thought. The governors have attended meetings with parents and staff at the Duke’s and Lindisfarne middle schools and more information may come in when we have listened to more parents and staff at the high school consultation meetings to be held towards the end of February.

The governors will be discussing the consultation at great length over the next few weeks before we reach an opinion and make a carefully considered and measured response. We welcome email comment and we are listening to what you say. However, please remember that the final decision on any changes lies with the elected county councillors.

The governing body has to respond to the county council by March 11. We will be using the time until then to talk and listen to parents, pupils, staff and county-council officers to find the best solution for the children of Alnwick.

We understand that all of you are deeply concerned about our children’s education. Our governor responsibility is for the welfare of all the children equally in our federation schools, for the foreseeable future.

Please be reassured that we take those responsibilities very seriously indeed and will try to make sure that our response is the right one for them all.