LIVE UPDATES: Overhaul of schools in west Northumberland; Netherton First School; post-16 transport discussed at county council cabinet meeting

Northumberland County Council's County Hall
Northumberland County Council's County Hall

Local democracy reporter Ben O'Connell is at County Hall, Morpeth, today for Northumberland County Council's Cabinet meeting. Follow his blog here:

The most recent posts are at the top of this thread...

11.13am: And that's it for today's cabinet meeting at County Hall.

11.08am: The cabinet members have voted unanimously to abolish what they described as a 'teenage tax'. Sixth Form and college students will not have to pay the £600 charge from September, but there will be a £50 admin fee to apply for the transport pass.

11.07am: Third item on the agenda is the abolition of the transport charge for post-16 students, a manifesto promise of the Conservative administration which took power last May. Coun John Riddle says there was a misconception about 'people in the countryside being rich'.

11.04am: Separately to this, councillors have agreed to launch a statutory consultation on the proposed closure of Netherton Northside First School, north-west of Rothbury. It currently has just three pupils, set to become two in September, and there are three alternative schools nearby.

11.01am: A formal consultation will now take place on the proposal to close Bellingham Middle School and the conversion of the first schools at Bellingham, Kielder, Otterburn, Greenhaugh, West Woodburn and Wark into primaries. July 10 is date of meeting for final decisions.

11am: Councillors have unanimously agreed all of the recommendations, so Haydon Bridge High School will be saved with a £1.54m rescue package and taken back under local-authority control, while there will be no changes in the Hexham Partnership.

10.58am: It is emphasised that this money would not be taken from other schools' budgets.

10.58am: On top of the £1.54m rescue package to run Haydon Bridge High School, £4.6m is needed to sort out buildings in the partnership - £2.5m-£3m at the high school, £912k for proposed Bellingham Primary, £335k for Otterburn Primary and £366k for Greenhaugh Primary and £10k for Wark.

10.53am: 'This was a nettle that needed to be grasped', says Coun John Riddle. 'I do welcome this report, but as local member, I can't welcome the closure of Bellingham Middle School'. He adds that travel times - currently an hour - from Bellingham to Haydon Bridge should be looked at.

10.50am: Coun Daley adds that the council is trying to reclaim around £230,000 from Bright Tribe after it walked away from Haydon Bridge High School. 'I do not actually know what they have done with their £1million and we want it back because it's public money'.

10.48am: Coun Oliver also asks about an audit committee report from the previous council in 2016 which highlighted a number of at-risk schools. Coun Daley, the cabinet member for children's services, says it was 'a missed opportunity' because no solutions were sought at the time.

10.44am: Coun Nick Oliver says that there has been plenty of engagement with this consultation: 'People have got involved and talked to each other'. He also says that the hard work starts now as the schools need to work together moving forward and that investment in buildings is required.

10.41am: 'Parental choice is really, really important', says Coun Cath Homer, who adds that not all children are the same so having a different offer is important too. She also talks about how key the transitions are for pupils from one school to another so wants that to be a focus.

10.35am: Council leader Peter Jackson says 'we're not afraid to take difficult decisions if they are right for taking our county forward'. He hopes the process shows that 'this is a listening council'. It gives this area a settled education system for the next 15 to 20 years, he adds.

10.33am: Coun Alan Sharp, who represents the Haydon Bridge area, says that it has been a difficult time but he is delighted with the proposals to save Haydon Bridge High School. He adds that a choice of schools is really important in rural communities.

10.30am: Coun Guy Renner-Thompson, chairman of the family and children's services committee, is summarising the discussion they had last week. Some concerns were raised, but councillors were assured that these proposals were the best way forward

10.26am: Bellingham Middle School, earmarked for closure, has 109 pupils on roll, but 162 children live in catchment area. It has a planned admission of 60, but only 24 pupils look set to start Year 5 there in September. Current Ofsted rating - requires improvement.

10.20am: He further says that councillors should instruct officers to start looking, alongside the Hadrian Learning Trust which runs Queen Elizabeth High School, at what funding may be needed to redevelop the Hexham school. A report on this would also be presented on July 10.

10.18am: Mr Johnson says that there are no proposed changes to the organisation of the Hexham Partnership of schools, but will 'establish a resilience programme' by encouraging schools to form a hard federation or federations so that small rural schools can work together.

10.16am: The council's departing director of education and project lead for this reorganisation, Andy Johnson, is outlining the details of the proposals to councillors. The changes which require further consultation would come back before the cabinet on July 10.

10.10am: Coun Daley adds that 'one of the little gems in the report' is the creation of a multi-academy trust with public-sector partners which will be there if small rural schools from anywhere in #Northumberland wish, to help them become more financially and educationally viable.

10.08am: But the cabinet members will be signing off on the £1.5million rescue package for Haydon Bridge High School for at least three years. Coun Wayne Daley outlines that withdrawal of Bright Tribe Trust as academy sponsor was key factor leading to the consultation in the first place.

10.06am: The proposals for schools in the west came after an informal consultation. While councillors will be making a decision today, it will not be the final sign-off as the closure of Bellingham Middle School and changes to age ranges of first schools requires statutory consultation.

10.04am: It's @N_landCouncil's cabinet meeting this morning. Agenda items are all related to education, as at last week's family and children's services committee (thread here - https://twitter.com/benjaminoc/status/991976538567512064). First up is overhaul of education in the west of #Northumberland.