Extension to Alnwick high school will not open in time

The new Duchess's Community High School in Alnwick.
The new Duchess's Community High School in Alnwick.

The extension to Alnwick’s high school will not be ready in time for its conversion to a secondary, meaning the need for temporary buildings.

The Duchess’s Community High School is due to become an 11-to-18 secondary school from September, as part of the Alnwick Partnership’s switch to a two-tier structure.

Questions over the progress of the extension had started to be asked and the possibility of Years 7 and 8 being taught at the Lindisfarne Middle School site had arisen.

But yesterday, the county council confirmed that temporary accommodation will be used ‘until the spring term 2018, when the whole project will be completed’.

The planning application for the extension, which will essentially add a fourth spur, or finger, to the spine of the new-build school at Greensfield, was unanimously approved by Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee last May.

The extension will expand the school from a capacity of 1,115 pupils to 1,615, made necessary by the decision to switch to a two-tier set-up.

The proposals allow for the extension to be built while the rest of the new school remains in operation.

It was confirmed this time last year that the four middle schools – three in Alnwick and one in Seahouses – would close this summer.

A county council spokeswoman said: “Significant funding has been committed to ensure that all pupils who attend the Duchess’s Community High School from September 2017 will be taught on the high-school site in high-quality accommodation.

“Pupils from all year groups will benefit from the great new facilities alongside modern temporary accommodation until the spring term 2018, when the whole project will be completed.

“We are working hard to deliver the best possible environment for pupils.

“This is a priority for the county council and we are investing in several schools across Northumberland. £14.6million of funding has been invested to produce fabulous new school buildings in the Alnwick Partnership.

“Extensions at Shilbottle, Swansfield Park, Longhoughton CE, Hipsburn and Whittingham CE Primary Schools have been completed, while work at Ellingham CE, Seahouses and Swarland Primary Schools is all scheduled to be completed to a high standard during 2017.”

Alnwick ward member, Coun Gordon Castle, said: “This extension means fitting into our excellent new high school an extra two years of children who would formerly have gone to middle schools.

“It has been a project on top of a project and has proved very difficult to get started for many complex reasons, not least of which being that the decision to go ahead and do it was only made a year ago.

“Helping resolve the issues, which at one stage included a visit to Parliament, was my highest priority before Christmas and I am pleased to note that the main obstacles have been cleared between four different parties and I emphasise that the proposed temporary accommodation is strictly temporary and a much better option than keeping open one of the middle-school buildings.

“I look forward to the work getting started and will be watching it closely. Coun Cairns and I have worked together over this for the sake of our children.”

Alnwick’s other county councillor, Heather Cairns, said: “Firstly, I am relieved that it has been decided that the September 2017 intake of children from the middle schools will go to the main Duchess’s High School site and not the Lindisfarne site.

“Temporary buildings will be erected and headteacher Maurice Hall has said ‘we will all share the pain’. The county council will fund the temporary buildings.

“When Gordon Castle and I first realised that the build of the extra wing had stalled, we met the chief executive at County Hall and Maurice Hall at the high school both to find out what was happening and to express our dismay.

“Coun Castle has used his considerable influence locally and with our MP to move the logjam and now hopefully the new wing build will start in February.

“It is important to realise that financing the new build is being controlled by central government not the county council, so Northumberland County Council does not have any control over the contractors.

“I made it very plain at the beginning of the process that sending children to Lindisfarne as a fall-back position was completely unacceptable.”

Government funding for the new Duchess’s school was announced in May 2012, with the construction starting in early 2015.