School merger plans set to be scrapped

Controversial plans to merge two Northumberland Middle schools could be scrapped due to an outcry from parents.

Plans have been drawn up to merge Seaton Sluice Middle School with Whytrig Middle School.
Plans have been drawn up to merge Seaton Sluice Middle School with Whytrig Middle School.

Under the plans, the pupils of both Seaton Sluice Middle School and Whytrig Middle School, in nearby Seaton Delaval, would be housed in a new school in planned new buildings shared with Astley High School on the same site.

All three Northumberland schools are part of the Seaton Valley Federation of schools.

Education chiefs at Northumberland County Council have previously claimed a merger would allow Seaton Sluice pupils to access a “modern educational environment” and smooth the move from middle to high school – as well as provide a “number of significant educational and financial benefits”.

But, councillors sitting on the family and children’s services overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday, heard a report recommending that the plans not be taken any further.

The document, set to be heard by cabinet next week, stated that 83.06%, or 603, of respondents to the consultation were against the plans.

Objectors raised fears about the size of the middle school, increased distance for some pupils, younger children mixing with older children, parking and traffic issues and the loss of a community school.

Meanwhile, the 16.94%, or 123, of respondents in favour of the scheme, said it would have social and academic benefits, mean that all pupils could benefit from new buildings and would help the transition between schools.

Labour councillor Caroline Ball, who represents Ashington Central, backed the objections warning that larger schools could become “children factories”.

She said: “I am delighted with this report and the outcome of it because we really need to ensure that we keep schools in communities and children aren’t travelling miles for an education and we’re making schools bigger and bigger to save money and almost producing children factories.”

Conservative councillor Daniel Carr, who represents South Blyth, warned that the merger would cause “traffic chaos”.

He said: “Its not wanted. If you have ever been to Astley High School in the morning and seen the absolute traffic chaos on that road an amalgamation of these two schools on a different site we don’t have the grounds to implement this.

“We’re not America, this is the UK. We have small roads we don’t have the capacity for the traffic implications this would bring.”

Coun Trevor Thorn, who represents Shilbottle, was the voice of dissent, saying that the plans are a “great opportunity”.

He added: “This was a great opportunity. I think it’s a great opportunity missed. Great investment was promised across the three schools.

“Yes, I totally get it. No-one wants to lose a school. I think here we would have had a school offering a great opportunity to the Seaton Valley children.

“I’m very disappointed at the response and the fact that this might fall. I do think it’s a mistake.”

The committee will pass its comments on to the council’s cabinet which will vote on the proposals on Tuesday.

The project to provide new buildings for Astley High School and Whytrig Middle School on the current shared site or another site will still continue to proceed as originally planned if cabinet votes to scrap the merger.