Openness and transparency are key in schools consultation, says Lib Dem

Julie Porksen
Julie Porksen

A would-be MP, who has previously campaigned on transport for post-16 students, is urging Northumberland County Council to be entirely open and transparent regarding the current consultation on the schools in the Alnwick Partnership.

The options for the schools – to keep the status quo, to merge Alnwick’s Duke’s and Lindisfarne Middle Schools, and to change to a two-tier system with closures of the middle schools – are being consulted on until March 11.

Julie Pörksen, Liberal Democrat candidate, said: “The decision on changing the rules for post-16 transport was a shambles; the consultation came out against charging and then the Labour council decided to totally ignore the results and even increased the proposed charge from £450 to £600. I want reassurance from County Hall that the many views expressed in this current consultation will count in the decision on the Alnwick Partnership.

“I think the county councillors making the decision should visit every school involved and listen first-hand to the views of the school communities. A visit would also give the Labour councillors from south-east Northumberland a chance to appreciate the distances involved in school transport in north Northumberland.

“The issue of school closures is exceptionally serious and I am very aware of the strength of feeling against closure of Seahouses Middle School. The education and well-being of every child in every one of the communities affected by these proposals should be considered equally.

“I am also concerned that while Northumberland County Council is focusing on consulting on a potential reorganisation, there is a risk they are neglecting the serious investment and support they must provide to schools to help them improve their performance.

“In order to have confidence in the county council’s decision-making process, both the analysis of the consultation responses and the decision-making should be open and transparent. I encourage everyone who has a view to take part in the consultation in order that the council can fully understand the impact of the proposals on children, families and communities.”

With regards to concerns that the focus on reorganisation deflects from improving schools’ performance, the county council’s director of education agrees.

At last week’s meeting at Seahouses Middle School, referring to the extremely poor rate of improvement, he said: “There’s no magic solution to that issue, but it’s something everyone in Northumberland needs to be aware of.

“When I got this job three months ago, all people wanted to talk about was two-tier or three-tier. From my point of view, until we can get that off the agenda, it makes it very difficult to engage with schools.”

Meanwhile, at its December meeting, the county council’s administration vowed to be fair, open and flexible as the consultation into reorganising the schools in Alnwick and surrounding area was launched.

Labour’s Coun Robert Arckless, policy board member for children’s services, said: “We want to be as fair and open as we can be with this. I gave a commitment at scrutiny that the consultation would be as wide and inclusive as possible.

“The administration has no view on a preferred model. The proposals have come forward because of representations made locally. We have made no decisions on this, I want to see a genuine, open consultation.”