System works, but schools need support

County Council election.'Anthony Murray
County Council election.'Anthony Murray

A headteacher and a county councillor have hit back after another elected member called for a new debate on the merits of two-tier education.

Most of Northumberland, 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.

Ruth Bull, headteacher at Glendale Middle School.

Ruth Bull, headteacher at Glendale Middle School.

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.

As reported in the Gazette earlier this month, Coun Gordon Castle, ward member for Alnwick, said: “We need to look at it afresh, because every child deserves a good-quality state education.

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

But his comments have struck a nerve with Wooler councillor Anthony Murray and the headteacher of the village’s Glendale Middle School, Ruth Bull.

Coun Murray said: “Everyone is entitled to their point of view, but on reading the comments of Coun Castle calling for a renewed look at a change of all education in Northumberland to a two-tier system, I must beg to differ.

“The results of the Ofsted inspection showed a number of first schools marked down, but there is no reason to believe that if they had been primary schools the same thing would not have happened.

“In Glendale, as in many other rural parts of the county and country, the three-tier system has worked well and ensured that good education has been available as close to home as possible.

“Why should we expect our rural young people to spend up to three hours a day travelling back and forth to school? Why for four months of the year should we expect them to leave home in the dark and return in the dark?

“In Wooler, we have two schools both rated good by Ofsted standards.

“Not only are they at the heart of community life, but they are a reason for young families to stay and settle in the area, knowing that their educational needs will be well catered for without many unnecessary miles of travelling.

“Some changes may be needed in how we run those schools, but I would ask you all, in whatever way you can, to work and lobby to maintain our schools and an educational system which has worked well to date and can continue to work well in the future.”

Mrs Bull said she was ‘bemused’ by Coun Castle’s comments, ‘because in the list of schools that were recently inspected, two of the schools that received a good grading were middle schools and one was actually in Alnwick’.

She also pointed out that there are six middle schools feeding the Duchess’s Community High School in Alnwick and ‘any changes to the education system in Alnwick affects a wide area, not just his electoral ward’.

“If the local authority had provided the support that schools deserve and need, then the outcomes of the recent inspections would have been more positive,” she said.

“Other counties can support their schools very effectively and now is the time for Northumberland to do the same.

“Coun Castle should take on his responsibilities of representing the community and be finding out why the county has been so woeful in its support for schools and take action instead of pontificating.”

On this final point, Coun Castle has already said that he has sympathy for the council’s officers as all of the movement is towards giving schools greater autonomy, but now they are being told that the local authority needs to do more.