Dad's devastation as daughter blocked from attending Ashington school with her friends

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A dad is calling on Ashington Academy to reverse its decision to deny his 10-year-old daughter a place for the next school year alongside her lifelong friends.

Paul Stevenson’s 10-year-old daughter Layla suffers from anxiety and finds changes at school difficult every year.

Paul fears that being separated from her cohort of close friends, who will be attending Ashington Academy from September, will prove too much for the youngster.

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Ashington Academy say the school is oversubscribed and places are offered on a basis of how close prospective pupils live to the school.

10-year-old Layla Stevenson from Pegswood, who has been told she hasn't got a place at Ashington Academy for the coming school year. Photo: Craig Connor/NCJ Media.10-year-old Layla Stevenson from Pegswood, who has been told she hasn't got a place at Ashington Academy for the coming school year. Photo: Craig Connor/NCJ Media.
10-year-old Layla Stevenson from Pegswood, who has been told she hasn't got a place at Ashington Academy for the coming school year. Photo: Craig Connor/NCJ Media.

But Layla has been offered a place at St Benet Biscop in Bedlington – which is further away. Furthermore, the family are Muslim, and are unhappy sending Layla to a Catholic school.

Mr Stevenson said: “Layla has anxiety, and every year when she changes class or her teacher changes we have problems.

“They can’t get anything out of her and if she is asked a question, she won’t answer – even if she knows the answer. She has had the same friends since she was three-years-old.

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“Her anxiety is through the roof. She doesn’t know where she’s going to go to school. All her friends will be gone if she goes to a new school.

“We were told she lives too far away and has no siblings or relatives at the school. Even sending her to Ashington would have been a nightmare.”

Mr Stevenson is a trustee of the Madina Masjid Mosque in Blyth – Northumberland’s only Mosque – and is reluctant to send his daughter to a Catholic school.

He added: “She would have had support with her religion within her group of friends. Layla has already gone through a lot, and now she’s terrified.

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“There is nothing wrong with Catholicism, I would pray in any church and my grandad was a Catholic – but my daughter has been brought up a Muslim and I don’t want her to go to a Catholic school.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do. I don’t see how they could do this to a little 10-year-old girl, I just don’t understand why this has been done.

“I’m more than frustrated, I’m gutted for her. I know what it is going to do to her.”

The family has appealed the decision, but an independent panel backed the decision.

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A spokesman for Northumberland County Council said: “While the vast majority of families in Northumberland are offered their first-choice schools, we are aware of concerns amongst some parents about the impact of changes to the admissions policy at Ashington and Bedlington Academies which were introduced by North East Learning Trust [NELT] in September 2020.

“The change involved a ‘distance to school’ measure replacing a recognition of catchment and feeder schools. In response to these concerns, we are consulting with parents in the affected areas on their preferred preference in relation to the educational pathway for their child(ren).

“For any family not gaining their first choice of school, there is an appeals process coordinated by the North East Learning Trust. This process has led to further places being offered by the schools involved but has not met the requests of all families.”

The online consultation states that, under NELT’s new policy, the closer a student lives to the school, the greater chance they have of being offered a place. This has placed students living in villages such as Pegswood and nearby Ellington at a “disadvantage”.

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It also means that while Layla hasn’t been able to get into the school, friends and neighbours on the same street – but slightly closer to the school – have been offered places.

A survey that closed in April will be used to ‘assist the council in identifying what is the preferred secondary route parents living in Ellington and Pegswood would like for their children’. In turn, this will allow the council to ‘establish an alternative educational pathway for students living in these communities, if that is necessary’.

Responding to Mr Stevenson’s comments, a spokeswoman for the North East Learning Trust said: “Ashington Academy is currently oversubscribed.

“In such instances, we adhere to a clearly defined admissions protocol to try and accommodate more children. Appeals are assessed and decided by an independent panel, with all decisions made externally and outwith the control of the school.”