Our school will not be sustainable, says head

A headteacher has warned that her rural Northumberland school could close within five years due to Government funding changes.

And while the drop in Glendale Community Middle School’s budget will be controlled for the next two years, Ruth Bull has said that it has to lose two teachers and some support staff for the next academic year.

As reported in the Gazette last September, changes to education funding has meant that many schools, particularly middles schools in rural areas, are set to lose large amounts.

The Wooler school, currently the best-performing middle school in north Northumberland, is one of the worst affected with more than £120,000, or 16.5 per cent, to go from the annual budget.

Mrs Bull said: “We are not the only rural school to be suffering, but we are losing such a great deal that it’s going to be a real struggle.

“We aren’t losing the whole amount of money straightaway. There will be a one-and-a-half per cent drop in the first two years and then we don’t know what’s going to happen.

“If they take it all away after that, the school won’t be sustainable. As it is, we have to lose two teachers and some support staff from September.”

The academic year 2015-16 is within the next spending review period, which means that there is uncertainty over what will happen, although the Department for Education has tried to reassure schools there will not be a ‘cliff-edge’.

But even if the drops continue at a controlled rate, ‘it’s just not sustainable’, said Mrs Bull.

Funding for schools is changing from April this year so that it is based mainly on number of pupils and Glendale won’t be getting the money for buildings and grounds that it did – about £84,000 – and won’t be making that up on the number of pupils – currently 135.

Mrs Bull added: “The county council has revised their figures and there’s a Minimum Funding Guarantee for the first two years, but their hands are tied to a certain extent because the Government has made these decisions.

“If we were in a brand-new school then the finance is manageable, but we are in a school that’s celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

“We are not in a school that enables us to save more money than we are already.”

A meeting to discuss the future of the school, which is used by community groups and clubs, takes place next Wednesday at 7pm.

“The community is up in arms because the school is used so much by people for activities,” said Mrs Bull. “We have called the meeting to see what we can do about it.

“Clearly a middle school closing in Wooler will have a huge effect on the education of the children. It’s not a meeting to raise money, but to decide how we can put pressure on to enable us to save our school.”

Glendale Middle School’s catchment area covers 200 square miles, most of which is Coun Anthony Murray’s ward.

“I would like to think just about everyone in Glendale would get to that meeting so we can demonstrate to county and the powers that be in Whitehall that we mean business and rural education is of prime importance,” he said. “It’s not our fault that our schools are smaller than urban schools.

“We just can’t afford to sustain the right form of education for our young people.”

Wooler Parish Council is also supporting the school and chairman Coun Alfreda Hindmarsh said: “We will need to work together so that the future of the school is safeguarded, even if that includes use of the site which would bring in revenue for the school.

“We have lost first schools like Kirknewton, Milfield and Chatton in the area, which hasn’t helped the middle school because they used to feed pupils in, so it’s not their fault they have lost numbers.

“They should take into account it’s in a rural area and it serves a huge community, and not just the children.”