Pledge for a fair and flexible consultation

County Council election.'John Woodman
County Council election.'John Woodman

The county council’s administration has vowed to be fair, open and flexible as a consultation into reorganising the schools in Alnwick and surrounding area was launched earlier this week.

As previously reported in the Gazette, Northumberland County Council has published proposals for the restructuring of schools in north Northumberland, following a request from the Alnwick Partnership, which is made up of 10 community schools with an added eight church-funded schools as voluntary members.

County Council election.'Anthony Murray

County Council election.'Anthony Murray

The county council’s report sets out three models for the future, with one being no change to the current arrangement of schools in the area.

Another would see the amalgamation of the Duke’s and Lindisfarne Middle Schools on the Lindisfarne site from September 2015, following the closure of Lindisfarne Middle School in August next year.

The third option would see the closure of Lindisfarne, the Duke’s and Seahouses Middle Schools in August 2016; the extension of the age ranges of Swansfield Park, Branton, Hipsburn, Seahouses, Shilbottle and Swarland First Schools to primary schools for age three/four to 11; and the extension of the age range of the Duchess’s Community High School to an age 11-18 secondary school from September 2016. The governing bodies of Ellingham CE VA First School, Embleton Vincent Edward’s CE First School, Felton CE First School, Longhoughton CE First School, St Paul’s RC VA First and Middle Schools, St Michael’s CE First School and Whittingham CE First School are expected to launch their own consultations.

However, if this two-tier option was brought in, the new high school at Greensfield would still only house students from Year 9 upwards with Year 7 and 8 pupils still based at the Lindisfarne Middle Site, but as part of a secondary school.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the authority’s policy board, it was agreed to launch the consultation, but with an amendment to include the schools in Belford and Wooler.

This followed concerns raised by the respective ward councillors, John Woodman and Anthony Murray, who pointed out that a large proportion of children from the middle schools in both communities go to Alnwick for high school, not Berwick, and that therefore any changes ‘would have a substantial knock-on impact’.

Coun Robert Arckless, policy board member for children’s services, said: “We want to be as fair and open as we can be with this. I gave a commitment at scrutiny that the consultation would be as wide and inclusive as possible.

“The administration has no view on a preferred model. The proposals have come forward because of representations made locally.

“We have made no decisions on this, I want to see a genuine, open consultation.”

However, Coun Peter Jackson, Conservative group leader, said: “The public is going to be a little bit suspicious because the actions of this council have consistently been in favour of two-tier over three-tier.”

After the meeting, Lib Dem group leader Jeff Reid said: “I look forward to an open, honest and transparent consultation on the schools organisation in Alnwick Partnership.

“I am pleased to hear the council administration has no position on what they want to be the outcome of the consultation, and that they will consider that if another option not listed in the consultation arises as the best outcome that they would accept this.”

A poll on the Gazette website shows that the status quo is most popular, taking 63 per cent of more than 800 votes.

The two-tier proposal earned 22 per cent of the vote and merging the Duke’s and Lindisfarne 14 per cent.