OPINION: ‘Lack of openness over closure consultation’

The pupils at Acklington  C of E First School.
The pupils at Acklington C of E First School.

The Parents of Acklington C of E First School would like to thank the local community and beyond for the support shown to us, our children and the school as we fight to keep it open.

We acknowledge that rural and church schools may close, but the case must be strong and carefully consider alternatives.

We were informed of the consultation by email on May 8, nearly four months after the decision was taken on January 19.

The delay was attributed to local election purdah, but we are unsure of the relevance as Northumberland County Council isn’t involved at this stage.

A James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) working party held one meeting on January 4, to look at the school’s viability, but the minutes have been deemed confidential.

We have been given no information on any other options that have been considered other than closure.

At no point since the federation began have governors attempted to contact parents or community leaders privately to express concerns regarding the school’s future or elicit help and advice.

Instead, their first act was to declare publicly the school unviable and undermine confidence that it was safe.

The document portrays the school unfairly in many respects.

Describing the school as a financial drain isn’t an attempt to provide useful facts, but to tarnish it.

The decreasing school roll next academic year will be the same as in early 2016 when the executive headteacher advised us that the school was safe.

We already know the roll will increase the following year.

The extensive marketing campaign may have been geographically widespread, but only as an inclusion to the JCSC materials and not targeted more suitably for a first school.

Despite consistent good church inspections, the Diocese has declined to offer us advice.

To the best of our knowledge, they currently have no governor representation and have not visited the school since the announcement.

JCSC promised an ‘open and honest’ process, but much requested information has been classed confidential or taken weeks to be delivered.

The burden for solutions has been placed upon parents, but lack of information or access to support within education sector makes informed contributions difficult.

Yet we are doing what we can – raising awareness; engaging the community and local government; proposing cost-cutting; and investigating a future outside the federation.

The village is large enough to support a school although some children attend elsewhere due to the threat of closure.

The housing developments of Amble and its surrounding areas, including Acklington, will only result in further increasing first school class sizes.

Six weeks of consultation is insufficient for review of all options and we will be asking governors to explore solutions properly, both inside and outside the federation, in conjunction with parents, Northumberland County Council, the Diocese and the community.

There is a public meeting with governors today at 4pm at the James Calvert Spence College high-school site on Acklington Road.

The last date for consultation responses is Monday.

Visit www.saveacklingtonfirstschool.co.uk for more details.

l In July 2015, plans for a hard federation were agreed – leading to ‘three-tier education under one name’ – as it was announced that Amble’s JCSC, featuring the middle and high school, and Acklington C of E First School were to operate under a new, single governing body.

Reasons given by governing body

The consultation document says: ‘In the light of falling numbers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide the best educational experience’.

It adds that the formation of the hard federation in 2015 was ‘to give more stability and prevent the first school from closure which would have otherwise been imminent’, but despite a raft of support being introduced since then, there are only 13 children on roll and there is no anticipated intake into nursery or reception in September, meaning ‘it is increasingly difficult to provide a broad and balanced curriculum at the school’.