Is it time to look again at a two-tier structure?

Gordon Castle
Gordon Castle
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A north Northumberland county councillor has called for another look at the county switching to a two-tier school structure.

It comes on the back of a string of Ofsted inspections, which saw a number of schools and the local authority criticised by the inspecting body.

Most of the county, including the north, currently has a three-tier structure of first, middle and high schools, as opposed to the more common two-tier set-up with primary and secondary schools.

However, when a change was suggested in 2004 and then looked at again in 2008, it sparked fury among parents, teachers and governors, particularly from middle schools.

Now, Coun Gordon Castle, ward member for Alnwick, has said that it is an issue that ‘we should be dealing with head-on’.

He said that he was surprised and saddened to hear about Lindisfarne Middle School, which requires secial measures following its inspection, as he has grandchildren at the school and has always thought it to be well-run.

But he added: “We need to look at it afresh, because every child deserves a good-quality state education.

“If you don’t have the structure right, it’s unnecessarily making it more difficult to improve standards.

“We were on route to a two-tier system before the crash in 2008 and I think we should look at it again.

“We should be careful not to persist with a system that’s not benefitting pupils.

“We are just about the only county in England persisting with this system and while I appreciate there are problems in rural areas, a two-tier system would help maintain the viability of first schools and reduce travelling times at local high schools.

“This is not a party-political issue, it’s cross-party, because we need to get education right.”

But the county council’s policy board member for children’s services, Robert Arckless, told the Gazette: “We don’t have the strategic powers to impose a structure.

“At this time, my priority is to be making the system work as well as it can. That means we will expect all of our schools to work closely together.

“I’m open to looking at different models in different areas, but I’m not about imposing any system. I’m very open to working with communities and school partnerships.

“Apart from anything else, one of the biggest problems would be finance. We just haven’t got that sort of capital.

“The other thing that’s changed since the previous Labour administration put this forward is that if we put a proposal forward, any school could opt to become an academy. The Department for Education has said it wouldn’t allow that as a get-out though.”

In 2008, the county council’s new Liberal Democrat executive embarked on a review of the controversial Putting the Learner First (PLF) programme, which was instigated by Labour in 2004 and involved bringing in a two-tier arrangement.

But when it was first announced, parents, governors and teachers from the county’s 45 middle schools reacted with horror, forming pressure groups, organising protest marches and raising tens of thousands of signatures in opposition.