One rural school is set to close and the council is to step in to save another as the future of education in the west of Northumberland was outlined today.
Consultation on a major shake-up in the Hexham and Haydon Bridge areas, which saw 16 schools under threat of closure, was launched in February.
The controversial proposals met plenty of opposition and hundreds protested outside County Hall earlier this month.
Today (Tuesday), it was revealed that just one – Bellingham Middle School – is now likely to be shut with the first schools in the Haydon Bridge Partnership set to become primaries from September 2019.
Northumberland County Council is to step in to save Haydon Bridge High School following the withdrawal of the Bright Tribe Trust as a sponsor, with a rescue package of £1.54million to support it for at least three years.
There are no proposed changes for the Hexham Partnership, meaning the council will not be supporting Hadrian Learning Trust’s bid to create an 11-to-18 school at Queen Elizabeth High School due to the knock-on effects on the education system.
The local authority also plans to set up a trust with other public-sector partners which would enable the creation of a multi-academy trust (MAT) across the whole of Northumberland in a bid to help small rural schools remain viable, both financially and educationally.
Coun Wayne Daley, who is responsible for children’s services, said that this was not mandatory, but it will be there for those schools – wherever they are in the county – that want it.
“What we’re really focused on in this report is the absolute commitment to take what schools said to us – we want to work closer together – so we’re saying let’s make that happen, let’s create a resilient programme for which preserves and protects our small school offer,” he added.
“What we always wanted to do was have a conversation so I’m very happy with the report today, I think it reflects a lot of the thinking we had anyway, but it also reflects very much the the desire of the community and the passion the community has to continue to deliver an education offer in the west of the county and indeed deal with some of the real challenges we had.”
In a statement on its Facebook page, campaign group STARS – Save Tynedale’s Amazing Rural Schools, said: “While some parents will be feeling disappointed, overall this is an excellent outcome and one we should all be feeling extremely proud of. Let’s keep the momentum going! We are stronger together!”
The building costs related to expanding the first schools to become primaries as well as rationalising and refurbishing Haydon Bridge High School total around £4.6million.
The proposals will be discussed at next week’s meeting of the county council’s family and children’s services committee then will go before the cabinet for a decision the following week.
Hexham MP Guy Opperman said: “I am very pleased that Coun Daley and the county council’s leadership have really listened to parents on this issue. They said they would listen to what local people have to say and they have kept to their word. It is a very refreshing change from the way our local community was often ignored under the previous administration.
“All of the parents I spoke to accepted that if falling roll numbers or falling standards became an issue then those issues would rightly need to be dealt with. I will be working closely with the council and Coun Daley to see how we can all work together to support our local schools going forward.
“Fundamentally, I think the fact that the voice of Tynedale is being heard and taken into account at County Hall, for the first time in a very long time, will be very welcome by parents and residents.”
By Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service