New schools to the tune of £58million in Northumberland

The proposed scheme for the new school buildings at Hexham, although this is subject to change during the procurement process.
The proposed scheme for the new school buildings at Hexham, although this is subject to change during the procurement process.

Senior Northumberland councillors have backed ‘long-overdue’ investment – to a total of £58million – for new schools in Hexham and Seaton Delaval.

Subject to £37.1million being signed off by the full council next week as part of the budget, a ‘really ambitious time-scale’ for a new middle and high school in Hexham would see procurement start before the end of the month and a target opening date of September 2021.

Meanwhile, £21million has been earmarked to spend in the Seaton Valley Partnership of schools, which includes Astley High School, with the cabinet also approving the development of an outline business case at its meeting on Tuesday (February 12).

Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for children’s services, said: “Whether academy or maintained school is irrelevant, we have committed to investing in our schools stock.”

His Conservative colleagues praised both schemes as long overdue, while also criticising previous administrations for failing to make any progress.

As reported following Monday’s (February 11) family and children’s services committee, the proposals in Hexham would see new buildings for Queen Elizabeth High School (QEHS) and Hexham Middle School created on the current high-school site.

Despite being academies, run by the Hadrian Learning Trust, the local authority will be providing the majority of the funding (around £23million), in line with a commitment made during the process which saw major changes to the educational structures in the west of the county last year.

Some of the money is also coming from the Department for Education, following a successful bid to the national Priority School Building Programme, although this is ring-fenced for the grade II*-listed hydrotherapy building and must be fully spent by March 2021.

At Monday’s meeting, the council’s head of school organisation and resources, Sue Aviston, explained that a ‘competitive dialogue process’ will see the authority go to the market with a construction budget of £36.1million and the knowledge that the proposals can be delivered, and ask contractors what added value they can bring to the project, with procurement set to begin on Monday, February 25.

Referring to QEHS being ranked as the best secondary school in the county in the recent league tables, Coun Cath Homer said: “Credit to the school that they have maintained their output given the state of the buildings. The previous administration did absolutely nothing.”

Coun Nick Oliver added: “Sports facilities are very important as they are currently woeful and a bit of an embarrassment, and this will address that.”

Meanwhile, the proposals for new school buildings in the Seaton Valley Federation of schools are one step behind in the process, with an outline business case now to be drawn up, but £21million is allocated in the budget to be approved next week.

Coun Richard Wearmouth said: “I hope previous administrations look at themselves in the mirror, because we are playing catch-up.

“It’s fantastic for Seaton Valley and this has been a long time coming.”

Council leader Peter Jackson added: “We are in the middle of a revolution of educational standards in Northumberland. It’s not just about investing in buildings, but investing in leadership and capacity in our schools.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service