The ripples of the decision to switch to two-tier education in the Alnwick Partnership have led a neighbouring first school to convert to primary.
As the ink was drying on the final approval for changes for 18 schools in the area, including the closure of four middle schools in Alnwick and Seahouses, governors at Warkworth CofE Aided First School were unanimously approving becoming a primary school and offering education up to 11.
The switch is to take place in September, in line with the Alnwick Partnership schools, but the chairman of governors, John Hobrough, who shared the news at last week’s meeting of Warkworth Parish Council, expects the first Year 5 intake to be small.
He explained that the decision came about purely due to the situation ‘over the border’ in the Alnwick Partnership – Warkworth is in the Coquet Partnership, feeding into James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) in Amble.
Mr Hobrough told the Gazette: “I have said all the way through the Alnwick consultation that whatever the county did, they should make it consistent.
“It isn’t and therefore we have this difficulty at the edges where two-tier and three-tier meet, or where two-tier and one-tier meet.”
Warkworth pupils will have the option of going to JCSC’s middle school after Year 4 as they do now or staying for another two years then going to JCSC or applying for a place at Alnwick’s new secondary school.
“We are giving that mixed economy,” said Mr Hobrough. “We need to make sure that parents have as many options as they want.”
The governors’ decision followed a period of consultation which included two meetings with parents.
Mr Hobrough said: “Many parents would like to keep a small school; they are used to a first school and it’s a good first school, but they realise there’s a need to change. They also realise that we have maintained continuity for them.”
Interestingly, if not a shift to a two-tier structure, there are moves for closer ties between the different elements of JCSC.
As reported by the Gazette in December, a consultation has been launched on proposals to merge Amble’s high and middle school into one, boosting links and cutting bureaucracy.
It followed the formation of a hard federation under one governing body, which also features Acklington CofE First School, last summer.
The merger would require the formal closure of JCSC South Avenue and the extension of the age range at JCSC Acklington Road so that it caters for nine to 18-year-olds, although nine to 13-year-olds would continue to be educated at the South Avenue site. Consultation on this proposal closes next Wednesday.
Further north, it was reported in November, by the county council’s director of education, Andy Johnson, that Berwick Academy, which is outside local-authority control, has commissioned a piece of research on changing the structures in the Berwick Partnership.
And during the Alnwick consultation, the governing body at Belford First School, which forms part of the Berwick Partnership, expressed the hope that ‘similar changes (a switch to two-tier) can be brought about for Belford First School so that the pupils in the school can benefit from a primary/secondary arrangement’.
As Mr Hobrough said: “There’s a long way to go in the ‘settling down’ of education.”