Full marks for school merger as term starts

RELIEVED councillors have welcomed the start made by students and staff at a newly-merged Amble school.

But Northumberland County Council has been criticised over claims it failed to complete necessary building work to cater for the amalgamation of pupils at James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) – South Avenue.

And there are calls for the authority to review the site’s school transport after fears that children will miss out on extracurricular activities.

It follows the closure of JCSC – Hadston Road, formerly Druridge Bay Middle School, in the summer and the amalgamation of its pupils at the South Avenue site.

The plan was hotly-contested, but a month into the merge and things are said to be going well at the school.

East Chevington Parish Council chairman Scott Dickinson, who visited the school with fellow member Coun John Leach, has heaped praise on both the students and the staff.

At Monday night’s meeting of the parish council, Coun Dickinson said: “The children are very smart and very happy and everyone has made new friends. The feedback that came back was really positive.”

The parish council has even agreed to send in its decorators to paint the school’s gymnasium, in what was described by Coun Dickinson as ‘a token of acceptance of the new school’ and ‘a show of solidarity’.

But he has hit out at the county council.

He said: “I am very, very disappointed with the county council’s efforts to get the works completed. There were bits and pieces that the county council failed to get done on time. It is disappointing as the staff and students had made efforts to make sure the school was ready.”

He is also concerned that pupils will miss out on after-school activities as there is not a school bus which caters for them staying late after school and has accused the county council of going back on promises made during the consultation process.

He said: “I am really concerned that our students will not be able to participate unless the transport issue is resolved.

“t is a problem and the county council is going back on what they said during the consultation process. It is a big issue and it needs to be resolved.”

Coun Glen Sanderson, ward member for Chevington with Longhorsley, has also welcomed the way the merge has begun, saying he was ‘upbeat’ about the situation, but admitted transport was a problem.

He said: “The one thing that concerns me is the question of bus times. It is okay if the parents have got a car or they are within walking distance but for a lot of the kids it stops them taking part in after-school activities. I would like the county council to look at the bus contracts, particularly for this school, and for later buses to be arranged.”

However, Christine Graham, executive headteacher for the Coquet Federation, said the school had a good relationship with the county council.

Regarding the works at the school, Mrs Graham said: “We had a huge building project in the summer holidays.

“It is very true that the work was not completed on time but the county council has been very helpful to us.

“There are very few things outstanding – these are cosmetic things – and the sub-contractors have been coming in over the last few weekends.

“None of this affects the health, safety or teaching of the children.

“We are working with the county to get this issue resolved and I think they are as disappointed as we are. The building work was sub-contracted out.”

Regarding transport, Mrs Graham said that the school was talking to the county council to try to find a way forward.

She added: “I raised this during the consultation period and thought it would be looked at but when the contract was negotiated between the county council and the bus operator it appears that it was only negotiated to pick up children at 3.15pm.

“For us to have half of the buses coming at 4.30pm would make a difference but we are not disadvantaging our children who live further afield and we are making sure they can attend activities.

She said that she felt the transport issue was wider than Amble and was a problem both throughout Northumberland and the rest of the country.

Mrs Graham added that the merger is going well.

“The children just love it,” she said. “They like the fact it is a bigger school, they have more friends and all the parents I have shown around recently have been really impressed.”

A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said: “The alterations to the school were completed on time and were operational at the beginning of term as planned. There were, as is often the case during building projects, snagging issues. However, these minor works did not prevent the opening of James Calvert Spence or affect teaching.

“We are currently working with the school and the contractor and the snagging list is being worked through. With regard to transport, the county council provides this for pupils to and from school at the beginning and end of the school day.

“Provision of transport to cover after school activities is the responsibility of the school. We are working with the headteacher to support the school with regard to this matter.”